The September 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Police Raids on Fresno Homeless

Memorial to Mary Who Died

New Orleans After Katrina

Troubles for the Berkeley Housing Authority

Link Between Foster Care and Homelessness

An Epidemic of Rising Poverty

Angel Behind Prison Bars

Blaming Street People for Cody's Demise

MASC Storage Lockers Offer New Help

Interview with Osha Neumann, Artist/Attorney

Resisting Unjust CEO Pay Rates

Liberation from Hell of Addiction

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Social Change

Sept. Poetry of the Streets

Review of Jan Steckel's Poems


ARCHIVES

July 2006

June 2006

May 2006

April 2006

March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


Street Spirit is published by American Friends Service Committee.

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Uncertain Future For Berkeley's Section 8 Tenants

Nervous city officials seize control of a meeting planned by low-income tenants to save the troubled Berkeley Housing Authority

by Lynda Carson

Tenants mobilize to save low-income housing after learning that the Berkeley Housing Authority is in a crisis. Lydia Gans photo

Years of negligence and poor management have brought the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) to the brink of collapse, as the blame game begins and fingerpointing has turned up the heat on BHA Director Steve Barton and Berkeley City Manager Phil Kamlarz.

The names of Barton and Kamlarz can be found on most reports submitted to BHA Board Members, reports that reveal their ongoing involvement in the failure of recent operations at the Housing Authority. According to their own reports, some of the biggest problems facing the BHA in recent years have been the huge amount of errors in the reports submitted to HUD by BHA's staff.

In addition, two years ago, HUD cut funding by 13 percent, resulting in estimated shortages at the BHA of $73,000 in FY 2004 and another $212,000 in FY 2005. The Bush administration wants to cut an additional eight percent this year.

As a result of budget cuts and mismanagement at the BHA during the past few years, the Housing Authority was dropped from being listed as a standard performer, and has been listed as a troubled agency.

The crisis at the BHA became so severe that last June, the Berkeley City Council voted to offer a one-time loan of $150,000 out of the general fund to help keep the embattled agency afloat.

Considering the huge movement in Berkeley to convert apartments into condominiums, while at the same time the BHA is on the verge of a HUD takeover, many low-income renters of Berkeley fear they are soon to be forced out of town by rising rents, condo conversions, and public housing mismanagement.

More than 200 low-income residents of Berkeley showed up at a tenants' community meeting on August 26 at the South Berkeley Senior Center, to hear the latest about their bleak future prospects in public housing and the Section 8 program.

Berkeley may be known as a progressive town with a liberal bent, but like San Francisco and many other major cities across the nation, it's business as usual and the poor are at risk of losing their housing as the politicians continue to sell out to wealthy developers. There are more than 1,800 low-income families in Berkeley's Section 8 program; the majority are African-American, and more than half are elderly and disabled.

Originally, the tenant's group known as Save Berkeley Housing Authority organized the August 26th tenant's event, and planned their own agenda and speakers. As a low-income tenant myself, I was a key organizer of this group. After the organizers refused to hand over control of their meeting to City Manager Phil Kamlarz, he acted to take total control of the meeting and appointed his own speakers and moderator, despite the opposition of those low-income tenants who had originally planned the meeting.

Section 8 tenant Clara Johnson criticized this takeover. She said, "I am in opposition to the dog-and-pony show being staged by the City Manager and BHA Director Steve Barton on August 26, and would have preferred a meeting that would have been a bit more authentic, such as what the original organizers had in mind before their event was stolen from them."

City Manager Kamlarz and BHA Director Steve Barton hijacked the tenants' event in an effort to shift the focus of the meeting away from organizing the tenants and mobilizing them to save their housing. Instead, Barton said, "We want this to be more of an informational meeting, instead of a meeting to teach tenants how they may lobby to save their housing. We do not want to offend HUD."

Kokavulu Lumukanda, another Section 8 tenant in Berkeley said, "As to why the City Manager has chosen to thwart a lawful citizen's protest regarding BHA irregularities, it is indeed wrong. His overbearingness should have been spent in oversight of the BHA, so as to have prevented its irregularities from ever having occurred."

Tenant activist Patrick Kehoe said, "This is a systemic problem in the BHA. The annual cost of living increases for the staff are so high, there's never enough funding left over in the budget to hire new staff as others leave the agency through the years."

In contrast to attempts by the City Manager to co-opt and subdue the event on August 26, City Councilmember Dona Spring surprised everyone when she said, "The tenants of Alameda rose up to save their housing vouchers and the tenants in Berkeley should do the same. I also want everyone to vote against the condo-conversion ordinance that's coming up before the voters, so that we can save our low-income housing."

The tenants' group, Save Berkeley Housing Authority, had worked with Spring to organize the event, and on July 25, Spring had BHA Board Members vote on a motion to direct the BHA to send out invitations to over 1,800 BHA tenants, to invite them to the August 26th event.
Immediately afterward, City Manager Kamlarz began attempting to take control of the event being organized by the tenants' group and Councilwoman Spring.

"Due to the tenant's movement to get people involved to save their housing, it looks like City officials are going to be forced to fight to save this Housing Authority," said Lori Kossowsky. "I think they planned to quietly let it slip away, but with so much attention being placed on the BHA, everything is now out in the open and can't be ignored."

The meeting's speakers were stacked with Berkeley officials, including City Councilmembers Spring, Kriss Worthington, Max Anderson and Laurie Capitelli, BHA Director Steve Barton, BHA Acting Manager Tia Ingram, BHA Board Members Adolph Moody and Dorthy Hunt, Rent Board Member Eleanor Walden, Police liaison Taj Johns as the moderator and tenant Patrick Kehoe.

The highlight of the staged event by City officials was when BHA Acting Manager Tia Ingram stated that on August 25, the BHA submitted a Semap report to HUD that was scored at 90 points out of 100. "This is all very good news," said Ingram. Semap is a way to measure how well a Housing Authority is doing in running the day-to-day operations of the Section 8 program and public housing.

Barely one day later, during a KPFA news report, Barton placed Ingram's statement in total doubt, when he stated that the BHA only scored 60 to 61 points on the Semap report that was just submitted the day before. This leaves little room for error in HUD's assessment of the report which may lower the score even further after closer scrutiny. Anything below a 60 scoring is failure, and may result in HUD getting involved in the BHA as a result. HUD's assessment of the Semap report is expected to be released sometime in September or October.

As recently as June 27, BHA Board Members voted to give the City Manager the authority to negotiate the future of the BHA with HUD officials. The options being considered are:

1. Dismantle the BHA, allow it to fall into receivership and a takeover by HUD;
2. Consolidate it with the Alameda County Housing Authority; or
3. Restructure the BHA somehow so that it functions properly and remains under local control.

Duringthe August 26 meeting, Kriss Worthington and BHA Director Steve Barton both acknowledged that they were at fault for the crisis taking place at the Housing Authority. "The City Council failed to spend enough time to run the Housing Authority properly, and the City Councilmembers also failed to receive the information needed to know what was going on in the agency," Worthington said.

Councilmember Capitelli chimed in by saying, "This meeting has offered me more information than I have received from the Housing Authority during the past two years."

At this point in the meeting, Barton appeared quite uncomfortable with so much blame being placed on his shoulders for the failures of the BHA, and the criticism being leveled at him for working with the City Manager to take control of the event away from tenant organizers.
As much as City officials tried to stay in control of the event and blunt the tenants' movement with their dog-and-pony show, when it came time for the audience to ask questions, the news kept getting worse.

A speaker from the audience mentioned that he read in the Berkeley Daily Planet that Section 8 contracts in Berkeley are soon to be reduced in value, and he wanted to know if this was true.

Barton shocked the audience when he stated that one-third of the more than 1,800 families in the BHA face a reduction in Section 8 rent payments to their landlords in April of 2007, and may have to pay more in rent as a result, or move into cheaper apartments if they want to save their Section 8 vouchers. A new HUD policy goes into effect in April 2007, in which the Fair Market Rents (FMRs) are reduced in Berkeley, resulting in payment reductions to Section 8 contracts.

When the audience became very alarmed to hear about the fast-approaching reductions to their existing Section 8 contracts, officials immediately tried to calm people down. "There's no need to panic," said Taj Johns, the moderator of the event.

Local homeless activist Michael Diehl suddenly stepped forward and exclaimed, "Now's the time to panic. Don't wait until you're homeless before you decide to panic!"

When Rent Board Member Eleanor Walden was asked what she thought of the event, she said, "I thought that what was important is that we fired people up to fight for their housing, and people realized that they didn't need the elite to speak out for them. They looked around and could see that they could do it among themselves. The people were empowered to have the right and ability to lobby on their own behalf."

Walden is also a member of Save Berkeley Housing Authority, and she worked hard to help organize this event; and spent money out of her own pocket to cover the cost of 50 informational packets handed out to the audience.

Members of the tenants' group defied the attempt of City Manager Kamlarz to exclude them from the meeting. They wandered around the meeting handing out information packets, took turns speaking to the crowd, and collected names and phone numbers to contact people for future events.

According to tenant activist Patrick Kehoe, "HUD feels the BHA is not getting the attention it needs and has suggested that the City Council appoint a new governing board. A less formal governing structure with in-depth discussion of BHA policies might be the catalyst that gets an active tenants' organization started.

"The higher salaries for the BHA staff -- who are employed by the City of Berkeley, not the Housing Authority, like other local housing authorities -- in combination with HUD's reduction of fees paid to housing authorities for administrative costs, is what has caused staff reductions and subsequent delinquent reports, resulting in troubled agency status."

Kehoe would like to see the City of Berkeley provide an ongoing subsidy from its general fund to pay for the additional staff needed to get the BHA caught up on its reporting requirements and move out of troubled agency status, and continue the subsidy for a couple years to see how much it will cost to maintain the BHA.

Members of Save Berkeley Housing Authority are urging the community to show up at the Berkeley City Council meeting on September 19 at 6 p.m. at Berkeley's Old City Hall, to speak out and keep the BHA under local control.

Lynda Carson is a member of the tenant's group, Save Berkeley Housing Authority and may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com


Tenant Group Urges Public to Write Letters and Sign Petitions to Save Public Housing

Members of Save Berkeley Housing Authority are asking everyone to write letters and urge Mayor Tom Bates and Berkeley City Councilmembers to maintain the funding for all additional staff that may be needed to remove the Berkeley Housing Authority from its troubled status, and to make sure that the public housing and Section 8 program is run properly.

Letters should be mailed to:
Berkeley City Council
City of Berkeley
2180 Milvia St.
Berkeley, CA 94704


Petition to Save the Berkeley Housing Authority

Click below to sign a petition to save the Berkeley Housing Authority:

http://www.PetitionOnline.com/SaveBHA/petition.html


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