by Lynda Carson

On Sept. 27, 2010, activists and public housing residents gathered in front of the Los Angeles Housing Authority Commission to protest the agency’s plan to privatize 15 large public housing projects in 2011.

In addition, the housing activists protested against the scheme by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Obama administration to fully privatize all of our nation’s 1.2 million public housing units through a proposal called PETRA (The Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act).

HUD is expected to push the PETRA proposal through the U.S. Senate during the last week of September, and hopes to seek full Congressional approval for the draconian legislation to terminate public housing programs across the nation, in the very near future. Even though PETRA is being promoted by a seemingly liberal Democratic administration, housing activists call it a “far right” proposal since it would eliminate public housing and dispose of it by selling it to private interests.

In Berkeley, the scheme to privatize and sell the city’s 75 public housing units has stalled, and currently HUD has not completed its review of the disposition plan filed with HUD to dispose of the city’s public housing.

Around Dec. 31, 2009, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) filed an application with HUD to dispose of its public housing units, and expected HUD approval of the scheme in 90 days. Although HUD approval has not yet occurred, the BHA expects HUD to sign off on the deal by the end of September.

The City of Berkeley plans to sell its public housing units to one or more nonprofit housing developers, and the BHA plans to finance the privatization of Berkeley’s public housing units by looting the Section 8 program.

If all goes as planned, the developers plan to convert the units into the Section 8 Project-Based voucher program, a program for landlords in the private housing sector that allows landlords to charge above-market-rate rents to the poor. These units will be subsidized with federal funding taken from the poor, in the Section 8 housing voucher program.

In opposition to the privatization scheme, public housing and Section 8 tenants appeared at several Berkeley City Council meetings and other public meetings to protest and speak out against alleged illegal activities of the BHA, and the scheme to privatize and sell their 75 public housing units to an unnamed nonprofit housing developer.

Additionally, on Jan. 19, 2010, public housing tenants held protest signs in front of Berkeley’s Old City Hall in between harsh rainstorms pounding the Bay Area before stepping inside the City Council meeting to demand the resignation of BHA Director Tia Ingram and BHA’s Chair Carole Norris, for their involvement in the actions to privatize and sell Berkeley’s public housing units.

Nearly nine months later, BHA Director Tia Ingram and BHA Commissioner Chair Carole Norris still remain in power, HUD has not yet approved of the BHA’s disposition plan, and many of Berkeley’s longtime public housing residents facing displacement from their housing feel a great deal of stress and anxiety regarding the outcome of their future housing situation.

Eliminating 70-Plus Years of Public Housing
In 1937, the U.S. Housing Act created the first public housing program, authorizing local housing authorities across the nation to build public housing that is financed through long-term bonds to serve low-income families.

Since the creation of public housing in 1937, the U.S. government has created about 13 other federally subsidized housing programs to assist the poor, including the Section 8 Tenant-Based voucher program, and the Section 8 Project-Based voucher program for tenants being subsidized in the private housing marketplace.

Art by Tiffany Sankary

Art by Tiffany Sankary

 

Affordable housing industry would profit from PETRA
The so-called affordable housing industry stands to make a fortune in a scheme called PETRA that would accelerate the privatization of public housing units all across the nation, if approved by Congress. Leaders in the affordable housing industry have convinced the Obama administration to terminate public housing programs across the nation, and to transfer 1.2 million public housing units to nonprofit developers in a privatization scheme that stands to make them billions.

In addition, if PETRA is approved by Congress, the nation’s 13 subsidized housing programs will be converted into one huge new hybrid program, with only one funding stream for the whole program.

Currently, each of the 13 subsidized housing programs have their own budget and funding streams, to make certain the funding reaches its intended target.

Once the funding streams are converted into one huge slush fund, no one will be able to tell how much funding for the poor, elderly or the disabled has been diverted to finance the public housing privatization scheme, PETRA.

PETRA has been rejected and denounced by thousands across the nation, including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congressman Barney Frank, but HUD and the Obama administration are moving forward as though they already have Congressional approval for PETRA, as is evidenced in the recent HUD budget submitted for 2011.

HUD wants to reduce public housing funding by around $500 million in 2011. HUD also intends to reduce funding for the elderly in the Section 202 housing program from $825 million to $274 million, and cut funding for persons with disabilities in the Section 211 housing program from $300 million to $90 million.

The Obama administration also wants to reduce the family reunification voucher program from $15 million in funding to zero, and wants to reduce the veterans’ supportive housing voucher program from $75 million to zero, for 2011.

HUD and officials in the Obama administration are clearly trying to grab as much funding as is possible from the federally subsidized housing programs for veterans, low-income families, the blind, elderly and disabled in order to finance the PETRA scheme to privatize 1.2 million public housing units, in an effort to enrich the so-called affordable housing sector by billions of dollars with funding taken from the poor.

Activists are urging the public to contact their representatives to say no to PETRA. The link below includes a petition to save our nation’s public housing: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-public-housing.html

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com

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