Berkeley Housing Authority Hopes to Sell Public Housing Units

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The Berkeley Housing Authority was given the go-ahead from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to sell its 75 public housing units last month, but a lack of clear communication has left tenants feeling frustrated and uninformed.

The housing authority, which manages contracts for the 75 units located at 18 sites across the city, appealed to HUD for permission to sell the units over a year ago, hoping they would be purchased by a nonprofit organization that could receive grants and tax breaks for which the agency is ineligible.

The housing authority decided to make the appeal on the advice of a strategic plan prepared by the EJP Consulting Group, which collaborates with governments as well as private and nonprofit clients on urban revitalization projects.

The housing authority sought financial solutions after HUD slashed its funding, according to Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio. Housing program budget reductions in the early 2000s were further compounded by decreased recession resources. Furthermore, fewer lenders are willing to provide financial support for building projects, and fewer investors are buying low-income tax credits due to associated problems within the financial sector.

Instead, the pressure has been passed onto the city, which has stepped in to provide funding. Although the housing authority requested $7,993,266 from the city's Housing Trust Fund last year, the city allocated a little over 50 percent of the solicited funds.

The housing authority became an entity separate from the city government in 2006, when it was deemed "troubled," according to federal criteria. Since then, the housing authority has had to prove its capability, but a healthier status by the numbers has come at a price.

Maio said the 14 housing authority employees have been overworked as HUD administrative fees paid to the city have fallen. Officials increasingly spend their time on paperwork showing that they are meeting HUD's 95 percent compliance rate, time which Maio said would be better spent communicating with the tenants.

"What suffers a lot is interface with the clients," Maio said. "There are a lot of rules, people's tempers get short, so the average tenant doesn't know how to navigate the system all that well."

Some tenants said the city has only attempted to make recent repairs in order to make the properties more attractive to potential purchasers, and that, had city officials taken pay cuts or allocated funds more efficiently, they - and the city - would not be in the current bind.

Solvena Sampson, whose disabled mother has lived in a public housing unit more than 20 years, said her family was approached with the option of purchasing their home last year but has heard nothing about that option since. She said she does not know where her family will live when their unit is sold and renovated.

"It's not fair for people that don't want to move," she said. "Give them the option to buy, find a place for them. Don't turn them out into the street."

Other tenants - like Zsanna Secrease, who found refuge in low-income housing after she and her children lost their house because of predatory lending - are of the same mind set.

"We're talking about kids who will be uprooted," she said. "Some of these people will be evicted from the city of Berkeley, and then the city of Berkeley will become a city for the privileged."


Noor Al-Samarrai covers communities. Contact her at [email protected]

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