Local Housing Authority Plans To Privatize Units

Photo: Public housing residents hold a press conference outside of Old City Hall in Downtown Berkeley to protest a recent privatization proposal by the Berkeley Housing Authority.
Alexander Ritchie/Photo
Public housing residents hold a press conference outside of Old City Hall in Downtown Berkeley to protest a recent privatization proposal by the Berkeley Housing Authority.

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Public housing residents are up in arms over a plan by the Berkeley Housing Authority to sell 75 public housing units to private developers, currently under review by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If the department approves the plan, the housing authority will sell the units, which are located at 18 different sites around Berkeley, to private developers who will renovate them to meet market standards. The department is expected to respond by either March or April.

Depending upon financial eligibility, residents say they may not be able to return to their homes and could be entangled in a long relocation process.

Housing Authority Executive Director Tia Ingram said the authority decided to move forward with the plan because it does not have adequate funding to renovate the units.

Between $4.5 million and $6 million is needed to repair the units, Ingram said, adding that the agency is losing over $150,000 a year to operate them.

"The (housing authority) board has made the commitment to ensure that families have a safe, decent place to live," she said.

Since sending an Oct. 27 letter notifying current tenants of the agency's decision to approach the department with the plan, the housing authority has held four meetings to inform residents about the plan's progress.

Berkeley resident Rose Flippin, a public housing tenant for nine years, said these meetings have not addressed residents' concerns.

"It's almost like it's more for show ... as opposed to telling us the real deal," Flippin said.

Members of about seven families living in public housing held a press conference Tuesday evening to publicize their concerns. Following the conference, several residents attended the Berkeley City Council meeting to address the council during the comment period.

"We're going to fight to the very end on this because these families are being terrorized (and) tortured," said Gregory Green, a Berkeley public housing resident.

Councilmember Max Anderson said the city manager will investigate some of the allegations made by residents and answer the council's questions.

"We heard their concerns and we're going to do what we can about it given our limitations with the housing authority," Anderson said.

He added that the city 4x4 Joint Task Force Committee on Housing, which consists of four city council members and four members of the Rent Stabilization Board, will meet to make recommendations to the city council. The committee's meetings, which are open to the public, have yet to be scheduled.

On Feb. 11, the Housing Authority Board will adopt a set of guiding principles for a planning committee composed of public housing residents, legal aid representatives and housing advocates.

Ingram said the committee will establish criteria to ensure the rental units remain affordable, such that residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their family's income.

If residents are not eligible for the renovated units, the housing authority will provide department funded Section 8 vouchers, she added.

"The plan is to improve units to market standard (and) to make sure they remain affordable," she said.

But Keith Carlisle, a public housing tenant who has lived in Berkeley since 1996, said he likes that public housing, unlike the voucher program, does not require a minimum income for residents.


Contact Stephanie Baer at [email protected]

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