Local nonprofit developers are interested in Berkeley's
public housing properties, minus the poor residents
By Lynda Carson -- March 21, 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.
Based upon information provided by the BHA to the consultants, nearly 72.9% of it's public housing tenants earn less than ,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 7 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.
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."
Lynda Carson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org