City Hall can run but it can’t hide from its responsibility for the scandal they have ignored for so long in the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), the agency that runs public housing programs.
Long before Rudy Montiel took over as head of HACLA, and all during his reign of self-service, the agency has been slammed in federal audits for serious misuse of public funds and abuse of rules intended to protect the poor whose well-being is in its care.
Fired employees have won millions of dollars in judgments and settlements and allegations of widespread mismanagement, tolerance of substandard housing conditions, favoritism and sweetheart deals have piled up without any action.
It took an uprising by the tenants themselves to finally bring the tip of this scandal to the attention of the City Council and the news media on Wednesday — just as it has taken outcries from the broader community to expose the scandals in the DWP and Community Redevelopment Agency.
Like the CRA, HACLA is created as an agency largely independent of City Hall except for the mayor’s power to name its commissioners and the Council’s authority to confirm them. Unlike the CRA which has become little more than a tool to use tax money to enrich insiders and build luxury developments, HACLA has been largely left to operate on its own and become a rogue agency under Executive Director Rudy Montiel.
Brought in to reform a troubled agency, Montiel has used a scheme called “low/mods” to set up non-profits to manage public housing units and gets paid by each of them in addition to his HACLA salary, inflating his annual income to about $450,000 — more than half million dollars a year including lucrative benefits.
Many current and former employees and people who have done business with HACLA have tried for years to get City Hall to look into HACLA operations but to no avail.
Montiel’s plan to put more projects into his low-mod scheme this year — another chanced for him to pad his salary — created a lot of confusion and upset many tenants who were repeatedly refused requests to the meet with him or fobbed off by other HACLA officials.
Back in September, about 50 tenants with the help of community traveled by bus out to Montiel’s mansion in Rancho Cucamonga on a Sunday afternoon when his wife and teenage son were home and staged a noisy demonstration that led to some 20 sheriff’s deputies being called to the scene to restore order.
No one was arrested but photos taken of the demonstrators were used to identify nine protesters who have now been served with eviction notices at housing projects in San Pedro and the San Fernando Valley.
That’s what led RIchard Alarcon and Janice Hahn to ask Montiel to show up Wednesday to explain what he’s doing.
He refused, saying he feared for his safety, and sent his outside lawyer, Joseph Stark, who protrayed the September demonstration as a hostage situation in which the Montiel family was imprisoned in their home and faced with threats of violence against them.
The upshot of the Council meeting was that the Council asked again for Montiel to come before them, to halt the eviction proceedings and to request the state Attorney General to investigate the situation.
Those actions don’t go anywhere near far enough.
The evictions are not the real problem. What’s wrong with HACLA goes far beyond that and requires a total and completely independent investigation into the HACLA’s policies and operations.
The Council — under siege from so many directions for its failures — keeps trying to drape itself in the cloak of reform without actually changing anything.
Here is an opportunity to make a real stand to protect the poorest residents of the city from HACLA’s abuses and pay more than lip service to reform by demanding a thorough investigation and replacing the HACLA board with people who will put an end to the abuses once and for all