July 30, 1993 - From the July, 1993 issue

Michael Bodaken: L.A. Housing Advisor’s Exit Interview

The Bradley administration brought major changes to the way Los Angeles develops affordable housing. What were its successes and failures, and what lessons do these efforts offer for the Riordan regime? The Planning Report discussed the state of affordable housing in Los Angeles with Michael Bodaken, the outgoing housing coordinator for Mayor Bradley. 

As you're about to depart from Mayor Bradley's staff as an advisor on housing, what would you share with the next administration on the city's housing priorities and needs? 

There's a unique opportunity to take advantage of the weak real estate market and seek opportunities to both preserve and develop affordable housing. The biggest obstacle will be the extent to which CRA housing funds can be maintained. The HOME funds the Housing Department can access will be of some help but we need a dramatic infusion of resources to meet housing needs. 

According to SCAG, about 26,000 additional families need housing per year, and we build about 12,000 units per year. The city's five-year housing goal is 130,000 units.

There's always a lot of talk in a new administration about reorganization. What advice would you give to the new administration about reorganizing on housing issues?

I think it should be looked at, but in a careful, thoughtful way. The agencies’ programs are  structured differently depending upon the needs they serve. 

A few years ago the Housing Department and Housing Commission were formed with the goal of bettercoordinating housing policy. Do you think this has taken place? 

There's no question. People talk together and department managers try to resolve issues of common concern. They all advocate for increased housing resources for the City. The next possible step could be to consolidate, but it may be that you're mixing apples and oranges. 

Both the CRA and the Housing Department fund somewhat similar things but not necessarily the same things, and consolidation could pose significant issues such as pension rights, civil service rights, etc. I would hate to see our efforts get bogged down. Finally, the CRA currently spends about 50% of its tax increment for housing. Would that be maintained after consolidation? 

What are the lessons you’ve learned working in the Mayor's office in implementing the Mayor's housing program? 

I've learned that entrenched bureaucracy is evil and it's very difficult to overcome simply through hard work. The bureaucratic structure is set up to prevent things from happening rather than to make things happen. There needs to be a "reinventing'' of the structures of government, including a charter change giving the mayor more control over departments and general managers. 

When you speak of bureaucracy being an inhibitor, what exactly do you mean? 

People are punished severely for making mistakes but aren't rewarded for ingenuity. I'd try to instill in the bureaucracy risk-taking notions so people could lake risks and make minor mistakes without being punished. Also, we should give general managers more control over their budgets and if they can save the city money, give them a bonus. But instead, the city micromanages. This also rears its ugly head in the city's purchase system where we pay an inappropriate amount for basic supplies and saving money is not rewarded. 

What changes to the land-use planning process that didn't come about in the Bradley years would make the greatest difference in affordable housing? 

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Were working on a density bonus ordinance that provides true incentives to developers if they provide affordable housing in their developments. That kind of thing would be helpful. We’ve done a terrific job expediting affordable housing since Neelura Bell, my assistant, became the expediter. That system needs to be maintained. Having one or two people in each department who see as their role assisting in affordable housing development would be helpful. 

Has the non-profit housing community come of age or does it still have a long way to go in addressing the affordable housing crisis in the city? 

One of my proudest achievements for the city has been the attention we've devoted to non-profit developers and their problems. The non-profit sector has emerged as a significant force in Los Angeles. I am sure that the new administration will work with that sector. When I started working here, you could count on your hands the number of non-profit housing developers doing business with the city. Today, there's two or three times that many who are community based and have long-term commitments to their neighborhoods. 

However, the housing crisis won't be solved by nonprofit housing developers alone. I think we were able to keep good relations with the private sector as well. Sometimes, all government needs to do is give incentives to for-profit developers and get out of the way. For example, in Santa Ana Pines and elsewhere I think we were able to do that successfully in developing single-family homes for moderate-income families.

Why in your opinion did most of the development community not support Michael Woo, a descendant of the Bradley era, and in fact fear his administration? 

I don't know if I agree with your premise, but my guess would be that they believed deregulation would come about better through Dick Riordan. Frankly. I hope they're right because many regulations are unnecessary. 

What will you be looking for in appointments to key commissions in housing and planning that will give you a better sense of the new administration's direction? 

People who have more than a theoretical understanding of development - people who have practical experience in land-use planning and housing. At the Affordable Housing Commission, it's a requirement that the person be experienced and knowledgeable in affordable housing. I would like to see those same criteria apply to commissions affecting planning and land use.

Finally, what does the Riordan administration inherit from the Bradley administration in affordable housing? 

We've transformed a moribund, slow department that focused on single-family rehab into a dynamic Housing Department that spends over $50 million a year on housing development. The CRA has increased the amount it spends on housing from about 25% to over 50%. We saw a Housing Authority that was considered "troubled" two years ago become a model for large city housing authorities. All of that has taken place over the last 36 months. 

Affordable housing has become a kind of institution in the city: the city for the first time is giving operating support to non-profits, and the Mayor and Council know who the non-profits are. The political momentum has broken through to where people have realized that we need an industrial, institutional response to housing, and that's what has been established.

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