One Way to Reform LA’s Housing Authority

The Los Angeles area media have been reporting on some alleged misbehavior at the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (the unfortunate acronym is HACLA).   KCET, the LATimes, the LAWeekly and others have had articles, published databases, bringing charges of misuse of funds, extravagant spending, and other malfeasance and misfeasance.  The City Council and Controller have now weighed in with some resolutions and preliminary audit results calling for significant reform at HACLA.  The acting Chief Executive Officer has been demoted and a new interim President & CEO nominated by the Mayor, and appointed by the HACLA Board of Commissioners.

Throughout this period there have been several concerns expressed that HACLA was not subject to the usual oversight from the City’s Mayor, Controller and City Council because it is technically a state agency primarily subject to federal regulations.

But that isn’t how it has to be. And it is not how some other large cities in California have organized their public housing authorities.

HACLA is the public housing authority for the City, and administers the major subsidy programs assisting thousands of Angelenos who earn too little to afford market rents, are elderly or disabled.  The public housing, housing voucher and other program funding almost all originates in Congress, and is subject to federal regulation and oversight from the US Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD).  The laws that govern HACLA and other local housing authorities were adopted by the state and are optional–that is, cities and counties may choose whether to have a local housing authority.  However, once a city or county decides to establish a housing authority, it must follow the state Housing Authorities Law.

But there are some options.  The Housing Authority Law provides some different models that cities and counties may choose from when the decide how to organize and oversee their local housing authorities.  The City of LA chose one model, and the recent reports make it clear that the city’s leaders are no longer happy with that choice.

But there is a relatively easy way to achieve what the Mayor, City Councilors and City Controller seem to want: more direct control and oversight of HACLA.

Article 3.5 of the Housing Authorities Law provides that the City Council, when they first establish a housing authority “or at any time thereafter, may declare itself to be the commissioners of the authority, in which case, all the rights, powers, duties, privileges and immunities, vested by this chapter in the commissioners of an authority, except as otherwise provided in this article, shall be vested in the governing body.”

The Housing Authority Law goes on to provide that the City Council  “which has declared itself to be the commissioners of the authority … may, by ordinance, create a housing commission. The number of members thereof, their terms of office, their qualifications, and the method of their appointment and removal shall be as provided by ordinance.”

This is what the second largest city in California, San Diego, did back in 1979.  The City Council is the Board of Commissioners of the Housing Authority, and there is an appointed San Diego Housing Commission that has some delegated duties to perform the day-in-day-out duties that would bog the City Council down.  But the City Council, acting as the Housing Authority Board, has ultimate and, if needed, immediate control.

They did something else down in San Diego–they moved the housing finance functions, which LA operates out of the Housing Department, to the Housing Commission, consolidating almost all of the housing subsidy programs in one organization, which eliminates the need to enter into interdepartmental MOUs, and makes it easier to develop and implement the city’s housing policies.

If the LA City Council declared themselves to be the Housing Authority Board, appointed a subordinate Housing Commission, and combined the operations of the Housing Authority and the Housing Department, they could achieve the control the Council wants, reduce overhead, and improve coordination.  And the model is a couple of hours away by AMTRAK.

Something to think about.

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