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When They Get Behind Closed Doors

Alameda County Housing Authority director supports Bush administration's attack on Section 8 Program in a closed-door meeting of the National Housing Conference

by Lynda Carson

Standard text version



During a closed-door meeting on January 12, Alameda County Housing Authority Executive Director Ophelia Basgal shocked a number of members from the National Housing Conference (NHC), when she expressed her acceptance of the Bush administration's plan to gut the Section 8 program. Basgal acted as though the draconian cutbacks were already a done deal, and everyone may as well accept it, said one of the shocked NHC members present at the meeting.

Acting as a shill for the Bush administration's scheme to gut Section 8, Housing Authority Director Basgal said that the Section 8 program needs to be reformed. Basgal pointed to the city of Chicago as an example of problems in the program, as she tried to convince a room of 30 NHC members that the Section 8 budget is so out of control that fraud is rampant. Basgal made it clear to the group at the NHC conference that she supports the Bush administration's efforts to cut Section 8, and is vigorously looking for ways to meet those goals as soon as possible.

Those goals may include taking away housing vouchers from the poorest of the poor and handing them over to wealthier tenants. Another goal would be to set time limits on how long families or tenants may use housing vouchers, no matter how desperate their housing situation may be. Still another goal would be to fully use Bush's proposed Flexible Voucher Program, a proposal that has already been rejected, condemned and denounced by housing activists across the country as being inhumane to low-income families.

Lucinda Rosman, a Section 8 activist of Alameda, was horrified to hear of Basgal's statements at the NHC conference, held in Walnut Creek on January 12. Rosman said, "As a housing authority director, Ophelia Basgal should know better than to support the Bush administration's schemes to hurt low-income families in the Section 8 program. We just had a housing disaster in the city of Alameda recently due to budget cuts in the program, and some of those tenants may have transferred to become Section 8 tenants in Alameda County as a result. Let's not see them get hurt again.

"She should not take vouchers away from the poorest tenants to give to wealthier tenants, because that is not what the Section 8 program is all about, and it would be an immoral act to do so. Some 80 percent of the people in the Section 8 program have no means to pay their rents if time limits threaten their housing, and Ophelia Basgal is fully aware of this."

This latest development does not bode well for Section 8 tenants in Alameda County, who depend on the director of the housing authority to know the difference between right and wrong. HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson and the Bush administration have come under fire during the past year for their efforts to gut the Section 8 program; and Section 8 tenants in Alameda County are not well served by a housing director who supports draconian policies that have already harmed tens of thousands of families across the nation.

The Alameda County Housing Authority, located in Hayward, administers about 5,562 Section 8 housing units, as well as 232 units of public housing.

National Housing Conference

The National Housing Conference, headed by President and CEO Conrad Egan, is a national coalition dedicated to supporting affordable housing, and is comprised of housing developers, builders, investors, architects, residents, religious leaders, state and local officials, bankers, and affordable housing experts. According to their website, the National Housing Conference "believes that every American, regardless of income, should have the opportunity to live in a suitable neighborhood. Since 1931, NHC has been the United Voice for Housing."

The National Housing Conference has held several regional meetings in California recently to discuss numerous issues related to housing and development, including a meeting in Los Angeles on January 11 at The Regency Club, and a second meeting at the PMI Plaza in Walnut Creek on January 12.

According to an inside source present at the Walnut Creek meeting, about 30 members, mostly directors of housing-related companies and organizations, showed up for the one-day affair, including Ophelia Basgal of the Alameda County Housing Authority.

Those attending joined together in the large conference room, where four long tables were set up in a square, and members were allowed to speak freely about the agenda items of their concern. The Section 8 issue was only one of the items on the agenda for that day.

Priori to this meeting, in a December 8th memo from NHC President Conrad Egan to its members, the topic of Section 8 was framed by asking: Is there a better way to provide federal housing assistance?
The memo asks: "What improvements in the federal housing assistance system are necessary to maintain and increase resource levels for very and extremely low-income beneficiaries, including time limits, greater income eligibility ranges, increased flexibility, all while preserving program intent and integrity?"

The January 12th NHC regional meeting in Walnut Creek was set up to discuss the virtues of dismantling the existing Section 8 protections for low-income renters. Discussions of time limits for voucher holders, greater income eligibility ranges, and increased flexibility are all euphemisms being used to discuss the destruction of the existing Section 8 program to make way for a new program that would cater to a whole new group of higher-income renters.

When the subject of Section 8 housing came up at the NHC conference in Walnut Creek, a number of NHC members spoke out in opposition to the proposed Flexible Voucher Program. Some members repeatedly asked NHC Director Conrad Egan to take a stand and speak out in opposition to the gutting of the Section 8 program by HUD and the Bush administration. Some NHC members responded positively when Julie Spezia of Housing California spoke out passionately in opposition to the proposed cuts in the Section 8 program.

Egan steadfastly ducked and side-stepped all requests to oppose HUD and the Bush administration, and declined to state that he and the NHC oppose Bush's proposed Flexible Voucher Program or any other cuts to the program. Egan also warned NHC members that what is said in this room, needs to stay in this room.

Many members of the NHC regional meeting were extremely disappointed that NHC President Egan declined to take a stand in opposition to the proposed cuts to Section 8. Many believe that the full weight of the NHC would make a difference in the struggle to save low-income renters from the Flexible Voucher Program.

According to an inside source present at the meeting, Egan told the NHC members to focus on lobbying the Republicans, and to forget about the Democrats who already oppose the Bush position to gut the Section 8 program. The NHC members then agreed to lobby Rep. Jerry Lewis (Republican House member from Southern California), in an effort to stop proposed funding cuts to Section 8. Rep. Lewis was selected in early January 2005 as the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

According to inside sources at the meeting, those attending the NHC conference in Walnut Creek included: Ophelia Basgal, Alameda County Housing Authority; Leslye Corsiglia and Michael Meyer, San Jose Department of Housing; Julie Spezia, executive director of Housing California; Liz Orlin, Corporation for Supportive Housing; Janet Falk, Mercy Housing; Betty Pagett of EAH in Marin County; Linda Wheaton, State Department of Housing and Community Development; several members of HUD's regional office; and a host of directors of housing organizations and lending institutions in Northern California.

Section 8 families across the country are alarmed by the secrecy of the NHC and other housing officials holding secret meetings behind closed doors that are meant to keep them in the dark.

The nearly 2 million families in the Section 8 program want these housing directors to stand up in opposition to the proposed cuts in the nation's housing programs, and have been outraged at being double-crossed by HUD and the Bush administration recently when their Section 8 contracts were sabotaged all across the nation.

The regional directors of HUD and the directors of some of these sanctimonious housing organizations have made a very comfortable living for themselves from the Section 8 program; yet they are now selling out their low-income tenants to the aggressive, anti-poor policies of the Bush administration.

Many directors of housing organizations and housing authorities make $100,000 or more a year from exploiting the Section 8 program, and if the Bush administration wants them to dump the poor out of their housing in exchange for higher-income renters, it's no sweat to them. Their salaries all remain the same, as long as they follow orders to dump the poor out of their housing. Some may even receive an extra bonus if they can make the poor homeless at an ever faster pace than the Bush administration requires.

The directors of the nation's housing authorities and affordable housing agencies have a responsibility to stand on their own two feet in opposition to the Bush administration's attacks on the poor. Specifically, NHC President Egan has a duty to make a public statement telling the low-income renters of America that the NHC fully supports them and condemns the proposed Flexible Voucher Program in any way, shape or form.

The fate of America's low-income renters rests in the hands of the housing authorities and housing organizations that have profited handsomely from the Section 8 program these past 30 years. At this point, the low-income renters in the Section 8 program are very concerned about their future.

Lynda Carson may be reached at (510) 763-1085 or TenantsRule@yahoo.com




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