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News :: Politics
Nonprofit developers want Berkeley's public housing, without the poor
27 Mar 2010
Long-time residents facing displacement from their housing!
Nonprofit developers want Berkeley's public housing, without the poor

By Lynda Carson

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.

Based upon information provided by the BHA to the consultants, nearly 72.9% of it's public housing tenants earn less than $30,000 annually. Additionally, 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 federal subsidies, including rent collected from the tenants for a three to four bedroom public housing unit.

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.

Additionally, the BHA's 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.

Berkeley's public housing tenants are now facing displacement and eviction as a direct result of the consultants findings, for the BHA. 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, according to the report.

It's expected that the residents will start receiving 90 Day Notices to move sometime in April, directly after HUD gives approval to dispose of Berkeley's public housing units.

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.

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 ethnic and economic cleansing."

It's also reported in the July 2009, BHA's strategic plan that was prepared by EJP Consulting Group, LLC, 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.

In comparison, in a November 2009, BHA public relations pamphlet sent to Berkeley's public housing residents and the public at large, it states, "The BHA’s 75 scattered-site units are old and have extensive repair needs, which will require over $4.5 million in direct “hard costs” alone to address. The BHA is losing over $150,000 a year to operate its public housing. The money that the BHA receives from HUD continues to be reduced each year."

There is a difference of nearly $1,000,000 (thats one million dollars) between what it states in the high priced consultants report, which was based on information provided to them by the BHA, in comparison to the BHA's PR campaign information being used in the effort to terminate Berkeley's public housing program.

The nearly $1,000,000 in inflated figures being used in the PR campaign by BHA's Executive Director Tia Ingram, and BHA's Chair Commissioner Carole Norris, reveals what the public housing residents are up against by those willing to do whatever it takes to grab Berkeley's public housing (75 3&4 bedroom townhouses) from the poor. Townhouses that are free of debt, thanks to a special Title 1 Grant provided by HUD, and used to build the housing back in the 80s, along with help from additional funding from the City of Berkeley, and elsewhere. Berkeley's homes are very expensive on the open market, and the 75 town houses (public housing) are worth a fortune on the open market, once they are privatized.

Based on a BHA timeline schedule to dispose of Berkeley's public housing, it's expected that the BHA will execute a disposition and development agreement (DDA) between BHA and a selected affordable housing developer or more, sometime in July 2010.

According to the timeline, the DDA is expected to take place directly after all the public housing residents are displaced from their long-time public housing, if the 90 Day Notices expected to be served in April have the desired effect and frighten the elderly, poor and disabled residents out of their long-time housing, on behalf of those interested in grabbing Berkeley's public housing units, from the poor.

During May 2007, Mayor Tom Bates appointed ICF International (ICFI) Carole Norris to a four-year term as the chairperson of the BHA's Board of Commissioners where she remains so today, despite the fact that she is still a vice president and consultant with ICFI, providing consultations and services to local city governments that are interested in disposing of their public housing programs, and offers consultations on how to conduct urban renewal projects in Bay Area low-income communities, displacing thousands of the poor from their homes and communities in the process.

ICFI / BHA chair commissioner Carole Norris directed the BHA through the whole process leading up to the plan to dump Berkeley's poor from their public housing units, to sell the properties to a local nonprofit housing developer.

A long trail of existing documentation reveals that Berkeley's Mayor Tom Bates may have appointed ICF International vice president Carole Norris to a four year term as the Chair Commissioner of the Berkeley Housing Authority, for the purpose to annihilate Berkeley's public housing program!

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule (at) yahoo.com

This work is in the public domain
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