Bill's Passage Means Little For Affordable Housing

The new measures designed to rescue troubled homeowners and some of their lenders will also include funding to help cities expand their supply of affordable housing. But it may be a while before anyone sees the benefit of that part of the housing bill.

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President Bush is expected to sign the housing bill into law as early as this week. The White House says, as soon as possible. We've reported before on what the legislation offers for struggling homeowners and for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. One other feature of the bill is money to create affordable housing across the country.

NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, from Los Angeles, on what those funds could achieve.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES: While much of the housing bill's package will aid middle-class homeowners, some of it will help residents of poor and working-class neighborhoods, too.

Mercedes Marquez is general manager of the Los Angeles Housing Department which provides affordable housing for low income people.

Ms. MERCEDES MARQUEZ (General Manager, Los Angeles Housing Department): There are dollars in this bill for communities, 2.9 billion, that will come directly to communities to work on foreclosed properties in the most distressed neighborhoods.

BATES: Marquez says that's especially challenging here in Los Angeles which has a perfect storm of high prices and a large low-income population.

Ms. MARQUEZ: We are a very high-cost city, so our land values are among the highest in the country, but our area meet in incomes are lower so that our housing gap is actually higher in Los Angeles than it is in San Francisco because they have higher incomes than we do.

BATES: Shawn Sebastian is painfully aware of how short the supply of available, affordable housing is in L.A. He and his colleague, Fabiola Sandoval, work at Esperanza Community Housing Corporation. It's located in what's called the Figueroa Corridor - a wide swath that starts downtown near the Staples Center complex and ends at the University of Southern California.

Shawn and Fabiola show me how quickly both areas are expanding - the result of downtown L.A.'s revitalization as we drive around in Esperanza's van.

Ms. FABIOLA SANDOVAL (Asset Manager, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation): This housing bill does include low-income housing tax credits. And all of our buildings, except for two, are tax credit buildings. And that, in essence, can result into more housing for Esperanza's, housing stock, more housing for the community that really needs it.

BATES: The area is a rapidly gentrifying mix of Latino renters, USC students and faculty. Esperanza buys properties, rehabs them, and then rents them to low-income families. Shawn points out the wave of foreclosures has affected renters as well as owners.

Mr. SHAWN SEBASTIAN (Development Associate, Esperanza Community Housing Corporation): Because there's also tenants who are in buildings that have been foreclosed, so hopefully, the rehab buildings will be - will provide more affordable housing stock.

BATES: On Estrella Street which has several Esperanza rehabs, Monique Udiarte(ph) invites us in for a chat.

Monique is a promotora, a community resident who does health education outreach to the neighborhood. She's proud of her Esperanza apartment.

Ms. MONIQUE UDIARTE (Community Resident): This is three bedrooms. It's really good, I have four kids. And this is the first time that my kids have their own space.

BATES: Monique says many other neighborhood's renters have lived here for years, sometimes for decades. But they're always worried about the encroaching development that threatens to push them out.

Ms. UDIARTE: We have tenants and they work for so many years. We already create identity in this community and it's not fair, and we want to fight for a stay in this community.

BATES: Back downtown, Mercedes Marquez is anticipating the stabilization that could occur for neighborhoods like Monique's with funds from the new housing bill.

Ms. MARQUEZ: Having the federal government finally come in as a real partner is something that's much appreciated and we've been waiting for. And so we're grateful for that and I can hardly wait for the president to sign the bill.

Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News.

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