HOUSING AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVOCATES CALL ON HACLA TO USE THE TIME CREATED BY HUD’S REJECTION OF $30 MILLION GRANT APPLICATION FOR JORDAN DOWNS TO FULLY MITIGATE TOXINS
The granting of redevelopment funds would have created a fast-track timeline that, in all likelihood, would have led to HACLA failing to fulfill its responsibilities to protect residents from the health impacts of toxins.
March 18, 2014, Los Angeles – The LA City Housing Authority’s billion dollar plan to convert the 700 unit Jordan Downs public housing development in Watts into a “mixed income urban village” were stalled on Monday when the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced that the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI ) grant application for Jordan Downs was unsuccessful.
Last week, at a community meeting on the redevelopment, HACLA environmental advisor, Matt Rhoda, told the packed auditorium that no one needed to worry about lead in their community. Some residents expressed frustration that HACLA continues to refuse to test the soil and groundwater under their homes – something several hundred residents requested via petition – and were concerned that had this CNI grant been awarded, a full testing for toxins and subsequent clean-up might have been sacrificed to meet the strict project timeline. Residents also expressed feeling intimidated due to an onslaught of legal notices and aggressive evictions served on residents – which may affect their good-standing and ability to access the new units. Although, the removal of residents and the refusal to test for toxins have always been unacceptable, the denial of the CNI application affords HACLA the opportunity to immediately engage in area-wide groundwater and soil sampling, create a comprehensive clean-up plan and support residents in maintaining their housing stability.
Jordan Downs’ resident and single mother, Ely Acevedo has been organizing with other concerned mothers and residents to hold HACLA accountable for securing the health of current residents, who are expected to stay on site during the redevelopment of the neighborhood. Ely said, “They are playing with our health and the health of all the small children that live here. How dare they tell us that we shouldn’t be worried about lead in our neighborhood?”
HACLA’s own studies confirm levels exceeding 6,000ppm of lead at the vacant Factory site inside Jordan Downs. 80ppm is the state of CA standard. Earlier this month, Thelmy Perez, of the LA Human Right to Housing Collective, testified before the County Board of Supervisors: “We cannot comprehend how or why state, county and local officials can make such a fuss over the Exide contamination and ignore Jordan Downs, where there the same toxins have been found. All of our communities – especially where the majority of residents are children and people of color with little resources and the lowest life expectancy in the state – have the right to their health and to a high level of accountability from government when their health is in jeopardy.”
The Housing Collective members and allies at the Center for Public Environmental Oversight, Legal Aid Foundation of LA, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-LA and National Economic and Social Rights Initiative believe HUD’s decision provides HACLA with an immediate opportunity to ensure an adequate and comprehensive environmental testing and clean up is conducted, which fully protects the community’s health. The CNI program is ongoing and another application could be submitted after all environmental health and other community concerns are addressed. While HUD has chosen not to give a CNI grant to HACLA, the Watts community is entitled to adequate federal funding to secure their human right to housing, without it needing to be contingent on redevelopment. CNI is not the panacea, there are many federal funding opportunities, including from the Environmental Protection Agency, which should be actively sought by our local officials in an effort to uplift and preserve the cultural richness of Watts and its residents. After decades of neglect, it’s time to invest in the people of Watts.