Private Investment in Public Housing – Berkeley Residents Cry Foul

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January 5, 2011; Source: San Francisco Bay Area Indymedia | Earlier this year, NPQ wrote about the Obama Administration's privatization moves in some federal programs (here and here), including HUD's proposal called the Preservation, Enhancement and Transition of Rental Assistance Act (PETRA), aiming to attract private investment into existing public housing and to increase the amount of public housing converted to mixed income housing.

In Berkeley, Calif. some residents and advocates of public housing are saying this type of private investment will deprive people of much-needed public housing.

Some people believe that PETRA is needed to get capital into public housing. Public housing has an immense investment backlog to be remedied, but it is difficult to imagine that it will be solved just by public funding. Other observers think that PETRA is simply a scheme to reduce the supply of public housing and kick poor people out of their homes. That's certainly the feeling of some advocates in Berkeley, Calif., where the public housing authority is hoping to find nonprofit developers to buy 75 public housing units.

The article linked to above from Indymedia refers to "greedy non profit developers" depriving poor people in Berkeley of their public housing. How often do we read about "greedy" nonprofit developers? It is something of an oxymoron for most of us, but this article charges that "the non profit developers [are] interested in making a fortune from the proposed disposition scheme, that will displace many poor families from their long time homes."

One might guess that the nonprofit developers involved in this plan would view their involvement as saving affordable housing, though the units will be converted to Project-based Section 8, which gives them a HUD-established market rate rent while the tenants pay a limited percentage of their income for rent. The article charges that the nonprofit developers will "kick back" some of the market rate rents to the Berkeley Housing Authority.

What would make the public housing tenants not want nonprofit ownership and management as opposed to the Housing Authority's? We would guess it might be something concerning the rights of tenants in public housing versus what might be lesser rights of tenants in privately owned housing. Are public housing tenants really that suspicious of nonprofit developers? We would love to hear from you.—Rick Cohen

  • Jules Moore

    “Non-profit: organizations actually have internal profiting systems that come in the form of bonus and much-above market rate salary increase (and perks) for their administrators. Project-based housing developments by-pass local housing regulations and make it easier to evict tenants. See lavish salaries of Catholic Charities, SF, Mercy Housing and other so-called non-profits to get an idea. I used to live in one of those places. It was very disheartening to see my apartment building become a hyper-dysfunctional place when Mercy began bringing in psychiatric patients and ex-convicts so they could increase funding for their “non-profit”. While their administrators’ salaries went way up (6 figures, plus perks), our standard of living went way down and our building became a very unsafe place to live. Physical assaults, suicides, and murders were routine after Mercy Housing too charge of that building. I am glad I got out of there.

  • Rose

    As a Public Housing resident it won’t be a easy task to remove 57 families. I have lived here for over ten years and I know that I am protected by many laws, in addtion to the Just Cause,that the City have in place for tenents. The Berkeley Housing Authority has done a poor job in managing Public Housing beucase residents deal with the following in there unit rodents such rats, raccoon running around in attics, mold and mildrew, poor workmanship as it relates to repair. some items in my unit have been repaired in my house about six time for the same repair. This is called Federal Waste… Alot of the children have asthma but they did not have asthma prior to moving in public housing. There are alot of issues that families have had to deal with such as being overcharge in rent, residents have been evicted due to altering of documents against families by Berkeley Housing Authority. Most families have no recourse to fight beucase most of the agencies that is suppose to help low income have been contacted by the director of the Berkeley Housing Authoity. They will not help poor people becuase Berkeley Housing Authority have convince agency that poor people are ripping off the system. Some family are scare to call for assistant or repairs, concern, changes to lease beucase Berkeley Housing Authority has a pattern in place that if you complain three days later you will recieve an eviction. Berkeley Housing Authority feels that residents do not have a right to complain if so there will be consequence such as harrassment, retaliation, or eviction at best. Here is a history of staff at the Berkeley Housing Authority most do no have the experience or the know how to get the job done. Most of the staff are overpayed and cannot write a decent letter let alone they conitinue to send me and other residents copy of lease, security numbers, letter that is address to my family but when you open letter it has someone else name and information. (there are laws regarding this) The sheme that BHA plan to pull is going to back fire right in there faces beucase Berkeley Housing Authority have broken laws by informing some residents that they did not qualify for relocation money so the resident got scared and moved out…. Two week before Berkeley Housing Authority got the news regarding the approve Dispostion there was a major eviction sweep that took place in December 2010. I don’t know how many people were evicted. BHA Director Tia Ingram tryed to evict my family but backfired in her face. I am not only a resident but I am a Housing Advocate so I was well informed of my right and prepared for battle LOL… The eviction for my family was short lived once, I educated Berkelely Housing Authority that I knew my right, inaddition to knowing Federal, State and HUD Guidelines so the eviction was resended. What I am most concern about regarding the Dispostion is that Berkeley Housing Authority have spent thousands of dollar in consultant fees, relocation experts, director is making a six figure income increase, and the family of Public Housing Resident have gotten “we are sorry that you folks are poor but it is time that you all move on.” Berkeley Housing Authority Governing Board also lack the skills as a functioning board to make the right decision for the families. The chair of the Governing Board does a poor job, beucase she has to intimidate the other board memebers so they will vote the way she wants them too. There are alot of laws being broken, eviction, and families been force out becuase the City of Berkeley mismanaged Federal and State Dollars for decades and got away with it. Now 57 families have to suffer at the hands of Berkeley Housing Authority by being force into the ghetto of Oakland, Richmond, Emeryville, and other city that have high crime rate. Children in live in public housing will be affected emotional, and phyiscially with changing of school rebuilding relationship with new peers,families will not longer have the luxury of providing their family with parks, YMCA, UC Berkeley Campus Activities, my church doctors offices, store that provide good quality food. My family have thived in this community since the the 1950’s and I will fight to the very end to stay in my unit. The residents have not done anything but tryed to live and provide for our family, rised our children and help to build the Berkeley Community by voluntarism. It is my hope that this comment will reach someone that could help families fight for our housing. I would also like to go in front of the housing commission, the senate, HUD officals in Washington DC and share the painful stories of the City of Berkeley Public Housing Residents as to how they have had to suffer at the hands of the City of Berkeley Housing Authority. Are we not citizens of this great country, do we not have any human right, rights of due process, freedom of speech, rights that protect the public housing residents just like the homeower that lives across the street from us… I think we do becuase Democracy is equality of rights,opportunity, and treatment… I ask all who read to please take a stand and write a letter in support of the rights of the Residents that live in Public Housing in Berkeley California.