LA Tenants Negotiate $80 Million Affirmative Action Plan For Desegregating Public, Assisted Housing

Tenants of a Los Angeles public housing complex, with help from the Fair Housing Congress of Southern California (FHC), have negotiated an innovative $80 million redevelopment plan to end racial and ethnic segregation.

A private developer will tear down 396 existing units at Normont Terrace and replace them with 800 condominium units. Under the September 17, agreement, half of the units will be owned by a nonprofit corporation or the Los Angeles housing authority.

They will be rented to persons on the authority's waiting list. The other units will be sold at market rates. During the first 15 years of the project, the Normont Terrace Coordinating Council, a tenants group, will be the managing general partner of the low income units. Funding from city and state revenue bonds will be sought to help a limited number of the housing authority's tenants purchase condo units.

Desegregation Required

Absolute integration of low income and market rate units is required under the redevelopment agreement. It is designed to create incentives for middle and moderate income whites to move back as first time home buyers.

Michelle C. White, Executive Director of the FHC, said "What we're trying to do, is come up with an integrated public housing environment that allows not only racial integration but economic integration so that children can take advantage of some of the benefits of integrated economic classes."

White said, "'The agreement is a good example of tenant empowerment we talk about which doesn't often get translated into action."

The September 17 agreement grew out of tenant opposition to the housing authority's initial redevelopment plans, which involved selling the 35 acre site to the private developer. The agreement calls, instead, for a 99 year lease.

White said the tenants were concerned that Normont Terrace had become a segregated complex. Tennie Sewell, grant coordinator for the tenants' council, said the complex is 81 percent Hispanic, 11 percent black, and 1 percent other. Sewell said about 10 white families live in the complex. She said in the late 70's, Normont Terrace was 50 percent black and 30 percent white, with smaller numbers of Latinos.

Had Separate Lists for Public Housing , Section 8

White cited separate waiting lists for conventional public housing and Section 8 housing, as among reasons for increased segregation. Housing advocates have charged that whites were given the opportunity to choose either conventional public housing or Section 8 housing. But African Americans and Latinos were usually sent to conventional public housing. White said, the rapid segregation of the complex was also due to a large influx of Latinos into Los Angeles in recent years. She also noted a housing authority program that allows prospective tenants to choose where they live, which segregates.

Normont Terrace was built during World War II as temporary workers' quarters. It is beyond repair, but fully occupied. It cannot be considered "obsolete" to receive HUD replacement funding. Although the tenants could have brought an affirmative habitability lawsuit against the housing authority, they preferred to work with the authority to devise a solution.

Construction Financing

Financing for construction is being sought from large commercial lenders. Federal and state tax credits will generate some $16 million for building units that will be rented to low income tenants. Operating expenses for the low income units will come from HUD's Section 8 program.

The Normont Terrace Coordinating Council will receive $1 million, and 5 percent of the net proceeds from sale of the market rate units, to use for job training and other economic development programs. The housing authority will get 25% from the net sale.

Other groups helping the tenant's council were: the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles; the Center for Community Change in San Francisco; pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom; the National Housing Law Project; and architecture and planning students from the University of California at Los Angeles.