DOWNEY - For John Perfitt, opportunity always seems to be knocking.Since his time of service in the Peace Corps up until his most recent role as Downey's director of economic development, Perfitt has often found himself walking through the doors that give him the chance to serve others. "Throughout my career, I've tried to work in areas that needed economic development," said Perfitt, who joined the city's economic team in 2007. "Downey presented itself and had some unique opportunities; a downtown with potential and the NASA site also represented a unique challenge. You know, Downey is a stable place, the bones are there." However, after three and a half years and dozens of development projects, Perfitt resigned from the city last Friday, taking his economic experience to Los Angeles where he hopes to help non-profit housing agency Restore Neighborhoods LA redevelop blighted communities across the city. "It's a non-profit development agency that funds housing projects in the community, a joint effort between the Los Angeles Housing Department and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development," said Perfitt. "We have a pretty narrow mandate. We buy foreclosed homes, apartment buildings, then work with developers on an affordable units program." Perfitt, a resident of Los Angeles, will serve as director of housing production, focusing on property acquisition, development, and management at the agency's South Park office in Downtown Los Angeles. "This was just too good of an opportunity to pass up," he said. "A former boss called and said 'this is something I think you should look at'...it's a good opportunity and it's closer to home." Created in 2009, Restore Neighborhoods LA acquires bank, real estate-owned properties and renovates them for use as affordable housing. As of this month, the housing agency, which concentrates on neighborhoods in Central, East, and South LA, as well as parts of San Fernando Valley, has already purchased more than 155 single family and duplex properties. Perfitt, while excited about his new position at the organization, admits the transition is bittersweet. "I leave with mixed feelings," said Perfitt leaning forward onto his desk. "A lot of good stuff is underway here, there's going to be a lot of interesting changes in the next two to five years. We're already seeing a lot of activity in our downtown, the former Gallatin Medical Center is poised for redevelopment, Porto's is always busy ‚àí Downey is starting to make its mark." Something Perfitt hoped to accomplish upon his arrival to Downey in October of 2007, just months before the economic downturn. "After I came in, we went into a difficult time. The market seized up and we had to adjust to a new normal," Perfitt said. "But there has been significant accomplishments…we've made the city more responsive, and we've delivered more services with less resources." Despite the city's economic challenges, Perfitt said officials quickly adapted to the fiscal climate, making changes that helped the city progress amidst recession. "We raised the standard for development in Downey," he said. "As a staff, we've become more business-friendly, more responsive. We've taken on a more active approach by being really accessible and that's a change." The announcement of Perfitt's resignation came with much praise from City Council members last month who credited him for a lot of the progress made in the effort to redevelop downtown Downey. "It's definitely a loss for Downey," Mayor Pro Tem Roger Brossmer said. "But on a personal level, I'm happy for him. He deserves this." According to Perfitt, who also teaches finance and planning courses at the University of Southern California, Steven Yee, economic development manager for the city, will take on more responsibilities in economic development, building and safety as a result of his absence. As Perfitt leaves, he ensures the city remains in good hands and suggests officials keep Downey business-friendly while finding innovative ways to promote the city to new businesses. "It's really incumbent on the people within economic development to get the name of Downey out there. You have to take an aggressive approach in telling the Downey story," he said. "It's fascinating how you can travel far and wide and Downey somehow is known. People link back to Downey - it's at a crossroads. "I think there are a lot of opportunities here, you've got to make them known."
********** Published: June 9, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 8