Tuesday, January 29, 2013

PCA and Urban Renewal

Urban renewal has ominous tones. At face value, it implies a clean sweep of a blight or supposedly blighted area and creating a shiny new built environment while pushing out the low and moderate income residents. Urban renewal, in a more modest fashion, continues today. Witness the ongoing Hollywood, California Community redevelopment project. However, what are the social implications of urban renewal? James G. Banks, examines the question in his 1963 article that has implications for the urban renewal projects of today. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Housing Act of 1961, dubbed the most important piece of housing legislation since the Fair Housing Act of 1949. It gave the Federal government the tools to meet the needs not addressed in 1949. One of those needs was making adequate provisions for senior housing. Through a direct loan program, new housing was constructed for seniors. Under the 1961 Act housing loans for elderly housing was increased from 50 to 125 million and consumer cooperative and some public bodies were made eligible borrowers. Further, in places where rent was so low that it threatened the solvency of a low-rent housing project, additional federal subsidy payments of up $120 per year was authorized. This enlarged the opportunity to provide good and comfortable privately-owned housing for the elderly. These housing units were developed by nonprofit groups such as churches and labor groups in order to meet the needs of seniors. One immediate question is were these units available only to members and the families of these groups or were they opened to anyone who qualified? Since the passage of both acts, it has become increasingly urgent that positive action be taken to assist in providing good housing for low and moderate income families. This issue has become more urgent in the twenty-first century as the number of homeless intact families has increased. Also, the low to moderate income housing needs of the disabled has to be provided for. The 1961 Act did not address this because, it seemingly was not an issue. Why wasn't this an issue? Perhaps the reason was, that the disabled were either institutionalized or in the care of their families. Under a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) provision, Section 221 (d)(3), a sub-market interest rate program was created. This allowed the FHA to insure mortgages to certain nonprofit or limited-profit developers at rates as low as 3-1/8 percent. The FHA could also insure mortgages with reduced insurance premiums or no premiums at all. In sales housing for low- and middle-income families, under FHA programs, the dollar limits on a single family house is raise. Down payments could have been as low as $200 per unit. This sound quite utopian but could this work today? The answer is no because the loans were bought by FANNIE MAE and we all know how that worked out. another issue has been the small number of public housing units authorized to meet the of low-income citizens. This problem has only increased over the passage of time as government housing programs were felled by the budget ax while the number of low income individuals and families has increased. Coupled with this is the increased number of low-income seniors, veterans, and disabled. In terms of urban renewal, as cities increase in size and population, since 1949, when original slum clearance and urban renewal authority passed, the total grant amounts have not been sufficient to deal with blight and deterioration. The original amount was $2 billion for a twelve year period. The 1961 act made an additional $2 billion available over a four year period. This still was not enough. Additional provisions increased the relocation payment limitation previously placed on businesses and permits the write-down of land resale prices if the land was used for moderate or low-income family housing. While Los Angeles housing ordinance mandates that a certain number of new housing units for low and moderate income families and individuals, I suspect that the lure of higher income families and individuals provide developers with motivation to find a way to get around this ordinance. What this means is that less housing becomes available for those who genuinely need it. From a Historic Preservation perspective, it means that older buildings in urban centers are left to deteriorate which creates more blight. Coupled with this is poor planning which ultimately affect all urban dwellers regardless of socio-economic standing. In order to remedy this, citizens must be willing to make some sacrifies in order to develop the type of city they want. So what type of cities do we want? Excellent question. Ideally, the type of city we want is the one that takes its users into account, meaning the people that live there. This can take on the form of proper family relocation from blighted areas, which to frequently gets overlooked in favor of more grand projects that many feel is far more necessary. Often, the people residing in the urban centers get overlooked. This is happening right as Downtown Los Angeles is being turned into what can only be described as Manhattan, New York west. Also, relocation should be temporary and feasible for the families and individuals as well as decent, safe, and sanitary. When families and individuals relocate on their own accord, the local housing authorities should make every effort to make sure that the new location meet acceptable standards of housing. Essentially, the housing authority inspectors should ask themselves if they would live in the unit or not. Further, housing authorities should take the initiative to track down families that have moved but left no forwarding address. How should this be accomplished? First, a good relocation plan is essential. The primary objective of the plan should be the proper relocation of families and individuals in housing appropriate to size and income. Another issue are the social and economic problems of displaced families and individuals. When faced with a move, long dormant problems often rise to the surface.. These problems need to be dealt with in a positive manner if successful relocation is to take place. For urban renewal to take place then families and individuals must receive adequate support services. However, sometimes a community lacks these services. Support services are necessary for the success of renewal projects. Moreover, if urban renewal is to have long term success then all segments of the community must contribute, including social welfare groups. Some individuals have encouraged urban renewal groups to assume responsibility for for the socio-economic conditions that result from displacement. This sometimes comes off as community groups attempting to exhort money from the city and private developers. One example of this, was recent attempts by opponents of a proposed new football stadium in Los Angeles. They attempted to get Anschutz Entertainment Group and the City of Los Angeles to fund a variety of community projects. This was eventually settled. Another issue is citizen participation. This sounds like a vague term but in this case, citizen participation means participation in urban planning and renewal by citizens as a way to assure continued enthusiasm for good maintenance and planning after the initial impact of the programs. The reality is that in order for good urban planning and renewal to take place we have to make an effort to preserve what we have and what we can rehabilitate. As they say in my field, all preservation is local. Renewal is only successful with intelligent citizen participation. This requires an awareness of issues facing a community, the ability to constructively problem solve, and individual citizen confidence that active cooperation among neighbors can result in real benefits to a community. This means getting citizens from long discounted segments of society to get involved. Sometimes this is a formidable task but it is one that requires patience and understanding.

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