Housing Authority Considers Privatizing Low-Income Units

Photo: <b>Many low-income public housing units</b> in Berkeley may become privatized as the Berkeley Housing Authority Board heard a proposal Friday from EJP Consulting Group to privatize 75 such units.
Jeff Totten/Photo
Many low-income public housing units in Berkeley may become privatized as the Berkeley Housing Authority Board heard a proposal Friday from EJP Consulting Group to privatize 75 such units.

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Plans to privatize 75 low-income public housing units in Berkeley, long opposed by tenants and local housing advocates, took another step forward as housing officials heard a proposal from a private developer during a special meeting Friday.

At the Berkeley Housing Authority Board meeting, EJP Consulting Group, a developer that specializes in building and preserving affordable housing, proposed its plans for the units.

EJP Consulting advisers Eric Novak and Scott Jepsen said the units have years of deferred maintenance costs and need an estimated $4.5 million in repairs.

Jepsen said a private developer is necessary to bridge the funding gap because the authority receives just $131,000 a year from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Novak said EJP hopes to keep the units affordable by providing tenants with either Section 8 vouchers or project-based assistance to meet the extra costs.

The authority's plan to privatize the units-located at 18 sites throughout Berkeley-has been opposed by tenants since it was announced in October.

Pending approval from HUD, expected during the summer, the units will be renovated to meet market standards, which tenants say will force them to find alternative housing due to financial eligibility and other housing restrictions.

At the meeting, some board members expressed concern that choosing just one company to take over the units may cut off other opportunities for residents.

Board member Marjorie Cox attempted to pass a motion to ensure that only a single developer be granted control over the units, but the motion failed to gain a majority vote.

If the motion had been opened to multiple developers, board member Katherine Gale said she might have changed her vote against Cox's motion.

Privatizing the units would be a wise choice for Berkeley, said Jon Gresley, executive director of the Oakland Housing Authority, which has already privatized some of its affordable housing units.

"It is no longer feasible to replace public housing with other public housing units because it doesn't work," he said. "It's a difficult time for public agencies to own small entities."

EJP's timeline aims for total project completion in February 2012. EJP estimates that the federal department will approve the plans by May and that by June, the Housing Authority will send in its request for qualifications.


Contact Jasmine Mausner at [email protected]

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