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BHA attempts to block residents from buying their long-time public housing units

by Lynda Carson (tenantsrule [at] yahoo.com)
The Berkeley Housing Authority pulls a fast one in an attempt to block it's public housing tenants from buying their long-time public housing units, after the housing authority kills Berkeley's public housing program in the near future!

BHA attempts to block residents from buying their long-time public housing units

By Lynda Carson -- March 19, 2010

Berkeley -- During April 2009, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) hired EJP/Praxis consultants to develop a strategic plan to assess options for what to do with it's public housing units, including the option to continue with it's public housing program, or the option to dispose of it's 75 public housing units through the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) disposition process, or to seek other options to meet the goals of the BHA, according to a July 3, 2009 report titled "Berkeley Housing Authority LIPH/RHCP Strategic Plan," prepared by EJP Consulting Group LLC, for the BHA.

In a summary of findings, it's reported that the BHA operates at a loss of $106,000 annually as of July 2009, and that the BHA needs around $3.6 million in hard cost improvements for it 75 public housing units.

Out of the options being offered by the consultants as to what to do with the public housing units, the BHA chose to dispose of it's occupied public housing units and filed a Disposition Plan (inventory removal plan) with HUD on or around Dec. 31, 2009, in an effort to kill it's public housing program, and sell the properties to one or more local nonprofit developers. HUD is expected to approve the disposition plan by early April.

However, for some dispositions the housing authority must offer the development being disposed of to a resident organization in place for that development, or any group representing the residents of the development that has expressed an interest in the development.

The BHA's high priced consultants believe that the proposed disposition plan would be exempt from the Offer of Sale requirement to Berkeley's public housing residents as defined in 24 CFR 970.13(a)(2)(v) and (vi), if the housing authority seeks disposition outside the public housing program to privately finance or otherwise develop a facility to benefit low-income families.

ICF International vice president Carole Norris, who is also the chair person on the BHA's board of commissioners, and BHA executive director Tia Ingram have both stated that their plan / goal (disposition plan) is to sell Berkeley's public housing units to a nonprofit developer, so that the privatized units would benefit low-income families. This plan appears to be the precise way to create an exemption that the consultants referred to, that would assist the BHA in avoiding the federal requirement to sell Berkeley's public housing units to a group representing the current public housing residents.

Additionally, the BHA consultants have been in discussions and interviews with local nonprofit developers, property managers and funders to test the feasibility of the BHA's plans, in an effort to see who would be interested in buying and managing Berkeley's public housing units. The discussions included, Ryan Chao, director of Satellite Housing, Dan Sawislak, director of Resources for Community Development, Susan Friedland and Angela Cavanaugh of Affordable Housing Associates, Jack Gardner, President and CEO of the John Stewart Company, Margaret Schrand, VP and Manager of Wells Fargo Bank, Community Lending Division, and Christine Daniel, Deputy City Manager, City of Berkeley.

According to the consultant's report, during the discussions taking place, specific concerns were expressed by those being interviewed who believed that Berkeley's public housing residents are highly politicized and organized, and are worried about the ability for a new owner or property manager to successfully carry out lease enforcement, in the Berkeley setting.

Those responding to the consultants also mentioned the potential political and financial risks to their organizations if they were to take on such a high profile and challenging redevelopment scheme.

It appears that the concerns being expressed may have directly led to the BHA's decision to try to pressure the tenants out of their long-time housing and relocate them under the guise of proposed renovations, as a way to assist the nonprofit developers who want the tenants removed, before signing contracts to buy the properties.

It's notable that Berkeley's public housing tenants are covered by "Good Cause" eviction laws that clearly state it is not a good cause to evict when selling a residential property, and the BHA may be trying to get around Berkeley's eviction protection laws by pressuring the tenants into signing future agreements to give up their rights as public housing tenants, in Berkeley.

In response to the plight of Berkeley's public housing tenants, "It's reprehensible that Berkeley, a city in the forefront of social justice movements, that the citizens would not rise up against the dishonesty of the greed of the developers and their influence on the BHA. I for one, would encourage more organization among Berkeley's tenant population to strongly oppose these draconian measures," said former Commissioner of Berkeley's Rent Stabilization Board, Eleanor Walden.

According to the July 2009 consultants report, 86.5% of the residents in the BHA's public housing program identify themselves as Black / African-American, 11.2 % as white, and 2.2% as Asian, and that the BHA only makes around $607 per month from subsidies, including rent charges to tenants, for a three to four bedroom public housing unit.

Additionally, there is very little turnover of the housing units, and the families have been there for a very long time according to BHA staff who noted that no one has moved in recent memory, except for three families who moved due to evictions. In addition, except for three rental units needing renovation, Berkeley's 75 public housing units are fully occupied.

Public housing tenant Keith Carlisle said, "Among the dead and the living, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Helen Keller and other blind and sighted people, clearly can see the objectives of the BHA, which are to run poor black people out of Berkeley under the thinly veiled guise of urban renewal. This is nothing short of ethic and economic cleansing."

It was on October 27, 2009, that Berkeley's long-time public housing families were notified that the BHA was soon to file a Disposition Plan that would kill the public housing program in Berkeley, if the plan was approved by HUD around 100 days after the filing date of the disposition plan. In addition, the families were all informed that when they are required to relocate due to the planned renovations that will displace them from their homes, they will be served a 90 Day Notice, requiring them to move. Hud is expected to approve of the plan by early April.

With the Disposition Plan, the BHA is clearly trying to open the door to destroy it's public housing program, so that it can privatize and sell the public housing units to a local nonprofit developer that can make as much as $1,932 per month, per unit, by converting the 75 units to the Section 8 Project-Based voucher program. A developer that is not interested in having the units already occupied, when buying Berkeley's public housing units.

In Berkeley, the nonprofit developers and other landlords all receive around $1,932 per month in federal subsidies and rent payments for a three-bedroom unit from families in the tenant-based Section 8 voucher program or the project-based voucher program, however, in comparison the BHA only receives around $607 per month in subsidies and rent payments for their three to four bedroom public housing units, being another factor in the decision to get rid of it's poor mostly African-American public housing residents.

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

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