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“Where is the help needed most? How can we spend what has become precious few dollars in the best ways? That is a discussion we have everyday,” said Richard Benbow, general manager of Los Angeles’ Community Development Department.
Benbow, previously chief executive officer of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, took the CDD job in 2006 fully aware of the challenges he would face. His job entails taking a budget that has been slashed by 33 percent in the last few years, and spreading it out among a wide number of public programs. Those include job training, child care, workforce development, domestic violence help, gang prevention and intervention, affordable housing and youth services.
“We’re short [of funds] in basically all of the areas,” he explained.
“We can use twice as much, three times as much actually.”
But Benbow is no stranger to overcoming barriers, he said. At the CRA he was one of the primary architects of the agency’s major reorganization in 2003, helping to shift it from a highly centralized structure to a more accessible decentralized one. While there, he also served as project manager for the Watts Redevelopment Project Area. He was responsible for the completion of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Shopping Center, the first new commercial development in Watts in over 20 years and he served as Deputy Administrator for Community Development in the San Fernando Valley, managing a federal loan program following the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
“[This job] is a big challenge but I’m happy that the mayor had enough confidence to select me,” Benbow said.
A big part of his dilemma, he explained, comes from the high number of foreclosures in Los Angeles. Money coming from homeowner taxes is disappearing quickly, he said.
‘The city has responded by adopting a motion on August 1 to set up an office for foreclosure assistance. The CDD was designated for that. Now we’re beginning to look at what we can do to acquire and re-circulate those properties that have been foreclosed on and to prevent homeowners who are close to foreclosure from being affected, by offering counseling and legal services and helping them to renegotiate their mortgage loans,” Benbow told the Sentinel.
At the Federal level, $4 billion has been set aside to help with the foreclosure crisis across the nation and Benbow is working hard to make sure L.A., one of the cities with the highest rate of foreclosures, gets its fair share. Other CDD money comes from the Department of Labor, HUD and a few other sources. Funding recipients include nine family development networks, seven youth and family services (after school programs etc.) and 17 work source centers. The CDD was formed in 1977 as an outgrowth of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.
“Our mission is to get as much bang for the buck as we can. I’m looking to make the organization more responsive (to the public), more effective, more efficient...,” Benbow said.