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First signs of a reversal in loss of Section 8 housing

By John Geluardi Daily Planet staff
Tuesday May 22, 2001

After months of bad news and gloomy predictions, the Berkeley Housing Authority received some good news – the Section 8 program didn’t hemorrhage units in April. 

Section 8, which provides low-cost housing to low-income people, lost only three units last month, according to a report to the BHA Board.  

In contrast, from the beginning of the year to the end of March, during one of the worst housing crushes in the city’s history, the program lost an average of 12 units a month.  

The loss of units from the Section 8 program has made it especially difficult for low-income families to find housing in Berkeley. 

One reason for the exodus of landlords from the Section 8 program was a lack of support from the BHA, said Frank Davis Jr., president of the Black Property Owners Association. Landlords had a hard time getting information from BHA staff and there was no assistance in filling out forms for property improvements, rental increases and help with problem tenants, Davis said. 

The BHA hired a new manager, Sheila Maxwel, in October to help reorganize the agency. Maxwell was given the task of streamlining the Section 8 application process and reaching out to the city’s landlords.  

But the new manager resigned in April, just six months after she was hired, dealing another blow to the agency. Maxwell was the fourth manager since 1991. 

Landlords were also enticed out of the program and into the open rental market by skyrocketing rents, due to a combination of a Bay Area economic boom and the shortage of housing. 

In April, the program enrolled 12 first-time Section 8  

voucher-holders and lost 15 due to tenant withdrawal from the program, landlord opt-outs and the death of Section 8 tenants. The result was the loss of three units, compared to the loss of 10 units in March. 

The Housing Authority, which is funded by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department according to the number of units successfully leased to Section 8 tenants, has been losing money for the last several years.  

Last year the BHA lost $255,000. This year Housing Director Stephen Barton estimates that the agency will lose $250,000 to $300,000. 

April’s loss of three units puts the number of leased Section 8 units at 1,236. HUD has approved up to 1,840 vouchers for Berkeley. 

“Staff is cautiously encouraged by the decrease in net unit loss since the beginning of the year,” the BHA report says. 

Even with the first sign of a turnaround, the report still does not suggest the housing authority is out of trouble. “Even with the most optimistic of projections, the trend does not suggest that the agency can achieve self-sufficiency any time in the near future,” the report says. 

Davis pointed out that BHA has recently raised Section 8 rents to a level more consistent with market rates. He said he believes that is the reason fewer landlords are opting out of the program.