LA housing chief steps down as city grapples with affordability

Rushmore Cervantes, who praised department’s expansion of homeless shelter program and linkage fee in message to employees, has also faced criticism

Rushmore Cervantes
Rushmore Cervantes

The longtime leader of Los Angeles’ housing department is stepping down at the end of the month.

Rushmore Cervantes has spent more than a decade at the department, which manages supportive and affordable housing development in L.A., according to the Los Angeles Times, which first reported on the news.

In a message to employees this week, Cervantes praised the department’s accomplishments during his tenure, including an expansion of the city’s homeless shelter program and the approval of the city’s linkage fee. Approved by the City Council at the end of 2017, it implemented a per-square-foot fee on all new residential and commercial developments to help fund affordable housing construction.

Cervantes said it was “time for new leadership to enable the city to successfully address the homeless and housing crisis, as well as the creation of one of the largest accessibility programs in the country,” according to the Times.

His planned departure comes as L.A. continues to grapple with an affordable housing crisis and attempts to address its escalating homeless population. As of the summer, there were 36,000 people living on the streets, a 16-percent rise from the previous year.

The agency, officially called the Housing and Community Investment Department, also has come under criticism.

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In October, L.A. City Controller Ron Galperin released an audit that detailed how the department had used the $1.2 billion bond money city voters approved to fund supportive housing projects. Galperin said the city must reduce the high costs of building those units because the program — approved under bond measure Proposition HHH — “is not keeping pace with the crisis at hand.”

Some housing advocates have also criticized the department for what they called delays implementing policies meant to protect tenants.

Stephanie Kasky-Gamer, who heads affordable developer L.A. Family Housing, called Cervantes a “strong leader” and said departments like HCIDLA “administer the resources they’re given.”

Mayor Eric Garcetti only said that Cervantes was “stepping down” when asked for a reason, and added Cervantes would serve as an adviser “on several key housing and homelessness initiatives.

Assistant City Administrative Officer Yolanda Chavez will be acting chief until the city finds a permanent replacement. [LAT] Dennis Lynch