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Indybay Feature
BHA may get kickbacks for privatizing its public housing sites
by Lynda Carson (tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com)
Sunday Feb 28th, 2010 10:58 AM
The scheme to grab Berkeley's public housing from the poor, reveals that the Berkeley Housing Authority may get kickbacks from a non-profit housing developer!
BHA may get kickbacks for privatizing it's public housing sites

by Lynda Carson -- February 28, 2010

Berkeley -- The Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) may receive kickbacks from a local non profit housing developer in a scheme to privatize 61 federally funded public housing units, according to recently released on-line documents.

Many of Berkeley's African-American families may be evicted or displaced from their long time low-income public housing in the near future, as a direct result of the proposals to sell their cherished housing.

On or around December 31, 2009, the BHA filed an application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), to dispose of 61 public housing units, and many of Berkeley's public housing residents have bitterly opposed the plan to sell Berkeley's 18 scattered public housing sites. HUD is expected to consent to the plan around a hundred days after it was filed.

The BHA will have to file an application with the State of California to receive permission to dispose of it's other 14 public housing units.

The executive director of the BHA, Tia Ingram, has repeatedly stated that "time is up," as a sales pitch to convince the public that Berkeley needs to sell off it's public housing sites to a so-called non-profit housing developer. Mismanagement, scandals and financial difficulties have plagued the BHA for years.

The scheme to eventually dispose of and privatize a total of 75 three to four bedroom public housing units has resulted in a public outcry from Berkeley's low-income public housing residents that have been protesting at recent City Council meetings, and in front of Berkeley's old City Hall in an effort to keep Berkeley's public housing sites from being privatized.

In a bizarre development, it's revealed in the minutes of a Nov. 23, 2009, 3x3 Committee Meeting that included Mayor Tom Bates, Councilmember Darryl Moore, BHA Chair Carole Norris, BHA Commissioner Adolph Moody, BHA Executive Director Tia Ingram, City Manager Phil Kamlarz, and BHA consultants Scott Jepson and Eric Novac, a discussion took place in Berkeley's Central Library meeting room on how the BHA may be able to get kickbacks from a non-profit housing developer, after the BHA sells 61 of it's public housing sites to a non-profit housing developer, as is recorded in recently released on-line documents from the Office of the City Manager.

The 3x3 Committee is a blend of two City Councilmembers, the Mayor and three BHA Commissioners who jointly oversee the policies and activities of the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA). Their next meeting is scheduled for 6:00 pm, March 2, 2010 at the North Berkeley Senior Center.

During the Nov. 23, 3x3 committee meeting, while discussing strategies on what to do with Berkeley's public housing units and how to raise more revenues, it was discussed that there are major differences in what the BHA collects from it's LIPH program (low-income public housing program) compared to what private landlords can make from the Section 8 program, and if the public housing units were to receive Project-Based Section 8 funding, the operator could use the difference between the costs of operations and payment from Section 8, to fund the debt service for funds needed to renovate the public housing units. There is a million dollar gap in their proposals to date, and more loans and revenues are being sought to finance the scheme involving the public housing sites.

In the Nov. 23, meeting Mayor Bates asked if it would be a for-profit or non-profit developer involved in the take over of the public housing units, and BHA consultant Eric Novak indicated that it was more likely to be a non-profit housing developer, and mentioned that a developer in control of a large number of housing units could acquire Berkeley's public housing units, and fold them into their current operations.

In addition, during the discussions taking place, BHA consultant Scott Jepson stated that, "After the loan was payed back, perhaps the developer could split some of the revenue from the project-based section 8 with the BHA."

Kickback schemes are illegal in California and much of the nation, and there have been a number of people arrested and prosecuted for their involvement in corrupt kickback schemes involving the nations Public Housing Agencies through the years.

Scott Jepson from the EJP Consulting Group, and Eric Novac of the Praxis Consulting Group, are highly paid BHA consultants steering the BHA through the process of grabbing Berkeley's public housing units from the poor.

Attending the same meeting, was BHA Chair Commissioner Carole Norris who was identified as the Vice President of ICF Consulting, in a May 2007 press release. ICF is a publicly-traded Virginia based consulting firm, highly dependent on government contracts involving housing and welfare issues, that may not be in the best interests of the working class poor, and public housing tenants across the nation.

Recently public housing tenant Keith Carlisle stated, "We believe that a conflict of interest exists. Ms. Carole Norris, Chair of the Board of the Berkeley Housing Authority works for ICF Consultants. We understand that this company is a paid consulting firm hired by the City of Berkeley for advice. Part of this company’s mission is helping to provide “Affordable housing strategies.” We don’t feel that Ms. Norris has our best interest in mind. She is a major advocate for privatizing our family homes."

The BHA wants to bail out of the the public housing business and it may already be deeply involved in discussions with a local non-profit housing developer, in an effort to grab Berkeley's public housing units from the poor. Getting kickbacks would even make the deal sweeter for those involved that are trying to dispose of Berkeley's public housing sites.

The BHA has been claiming that it is short by $150,000 per year to operate it's public housing program, and needs $5 to $6 million to renovate it's public housing sites, yet it spends a small fortune on highly paid consultants. In addition, due to the mismanagement of it's public housing program the BHA has spent years in troubled status with HUD.

At the Nov. 23, meeting when Councilmember Moore asked BHA consultant Novak how the first tenant meeting went regarding the plan to dispose of Berkeley's public housing units, Novak indicated that people expressed anger and shock.

Documents also reveal that Councilmember Moore expressed concern that these actions will be couched as a way for Berkeley to get rid of it's minority community, and he stated that we have to have minority families move in after the buildings are renovated. Moore also asked how much could a developer generate for the BHA, and BHA consultant Novak said $145,000 per year. Moore additionally noted that even if the current public housing tenants are given a Section 8 voucher to move, unless they have a security deposit and good credit, they cannot really move, but he ended up supporting the efforts to get rid of Berkeley's precious public housing despite his concerns.

According to the minutes of this meeting, Moore said that his strong support for these actions is because HUD is underpaying Berkeley to provide public housing.

In a cynical ploy to shred any concerns of those participating in the Nov. 23, meeting, it's documented that BHA commissioner Carole Norris stated that the inventory removal application being filed with HUD to dispose of the public housing units just opens the door, and that there is no requirement to move forward even if HUD approves the application.

Mayor Tom Bates stated that the BHA has done a great job, and was very pleased with Chair Norris and the BHA's board members, according to the recently released documents.

During the public comment period for this obscure Nov. 23, 3x3 committee meeting, there were no public speakers.

It was on December 15, 2008 that BHA Chair Norris, the vice president of ICF Consulting, directed the BHA's board members to pursue a course of action that led directly to the scheme to dispose of Berkeley's 75 public housing units.

Over 20 public housing tenants in Berkeley signed a statement to HUD saying that their organization Residents Awareness in Action, wants to operate their public housing sites themselves.

Berkeley's public housing residents invite the public to join them in the struggle to save Berkeley's 75 public housing units, and welcomes the public to join them on Saturday mornings from 10am - 12pm at Intercity Services 3269 Adeline St., in Berkeley, for their weekly meetings. Contact; saveberkeleypublichousing [at] gmail.com

Click below for more on the plan to grab Berkeley's public housing from the poor...

http://tinyurl.com/ybozhbr

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com

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