The questions were too complex and too numerous to begin to answer at Tuesday evening’s Berkeley Housing Authority meeting, scheduled from 7 p.m. to 7:05 p.m.
When should the meetings be held and how long should they last? And how can Berkeley residents get vouchers for Section 8 – low income – rental housing?
The Berkeley Housing Authority is charged with overseeing some 60 units of public housing and about 1,400 Section 8 rental units.
All 11 members of the housing authority – the nine councilmembers and two low-housing residents – agreed Tuesday evening that all the questions need full discussion. They decided that in order for that to take place they would have to wait until the council reconvenes after its summer break.
“Many people equate the BHA with City Council,” said Helen Wheeler, who represents Section 8 renters. “The BHA has been shuffled off and especially recently, hasn’t had enough time and attention to see that it is well-managed.”
The most pressing issue at hand is the progress of the Section 8 voucher lottery, Wheeler said. Of the 5,000 people that applied for a Section 8 voucher, 1,592 were accepted as qualified Berkeley residents, 160 have been interviewed for initial eligibility and 20 have submitted the required documents to determine their eligibility.
Only five have been determined eligible. Those five candidates are scheduled for a group briefing later in the month.
Meanwhile, people like Ed Rosenfeld teeter on the edge of homelessness while being placed on the waiting list to receive a voucher. “It’s been a long and arduous, not to mention tedious, process,” Rosenfeld said, during the public comment period at the beginning of the housing authority meeting.
Rosenfeld was issued Number 287 in the lottery, filed all the required paperwork, and said he was assured by the BHA administration that he would receive his certificate by the end of the summer. He said he is still waiting.
A differently-composed housing authority may be able to address some of the problems, Mayor Shirley Dean said.
In a letter to members of the City Council, Dean said the new authority could be comprised of five members elected by the current members, with a possible mix of both property owners and residents of publicly-owned housing. These members could be elected by mail and represent each of the four quadrants in the city with one member at large.
“The issues that are before the authority are becoming more and more complicated as the regulations change at HUD and congress cuts or augments programs such as Section 8,” she said. “Not only are the issues becoming more complex, they are also changing.”
Dean was referring to programs such as the Resident Advisory Board, to be comprised of public housing residents and Section 8 participants.
The board is currently operating on an interim basis until its members can be elected.
Berkeley Housing Authority issues require more time than the five minutes scheduled once each month. On average, the meetings exceed the allotted time and last about one hour.
Further, Dean feels that the BHA cuts into Cty Council time by delaying discussion of items on the council agenda, not to mention space in the council chambers.
“There simply isn’t enough room for 11 people to sit in the Council seats that are meant to accommodate nine people,” she wrote.
Wheeler, on the other hand, says that the meetings are not scheduled monthly. There have been only six meetings last year and five this year, she said. Housing Authority matters merit more attention, she argued.
Members of Service Employees International Union Local 535 who work for the BHA, meanwhile, complain that they cannot properly accomplish their tasks without proper assistance from management. They say they are using outdated software and have an overload of paperwork.
They place the blame on BHA director Lee Hightower and his supervisor, Stephen Barton. “From a staff perspective we must tell you, things get worse, not better,” said senior field representative Ron Rhone in a complaint letter to the city manager.