Page One

The Berkeley Housing Authority makes steady but slow progress

By John Geluardi, Daily Planet staff
Monday November 05, 2001

Newly reorganized agency in a race against time 


The Berkeley Housing Authority has steadily increased new Section 8 leases over the last six months, but the troubled agency is still in a race against time to avoid HUD sanctions and possible dissolution. 

Housing Director Stephen Barton presented the BHA Board with a report Tuesday that showed an increase of 17 Section 8 leases in July, August and September despite a loss of 32 leases over the same period. Until May, the agency had been losing an average of 11 leases a month. September was the fifth consecutive month the BHA has recorded a gain in leases which officials say is clear evidence that both new BHA Manager Rick Mattessich and a reorganization of the agency have reversed years of department inefficiency. 

While that is good news, the agency still faces the difficult task of either adding more than 300 new Section 8 leases by April (about 50 a month), or facing HUD funding sanctions and a possible take-over of the agency by the county. 

In addition to internal problems, the BHA has had difficulty increasing its inventory of Section 8 leases because of a shortage of available rental units and a very competitive housing market. 

Barton said that a newly compiled waiting list is the agency’s best hope of meeting the HUD goals. The BHA collected 3,500 new Section 8 housing applications last month and hopes to begin processing applicants this month. 

“My hope is that with the new waiting list we will have a higher rate of applicants who are already in housing,” Barton said. “That will create a win-win situation for tenants and with landlords who will be able to get market rents despite rent control.” 

In February, Barton presented a report to the 11-member Berkeley Housing Authority Board – the mayor, councilmembers and two tenant members, that described the city’s housing subsidy agency on the verge of collapse.  

According to the February report, poor organization had resulted in an agency that was so dysfunctional it was apparently unable to provide landlords with HUD-approved rent increases or process a waiting list of 1,500 people who had applied for Section 8 housing subsidies. 

The BHA had gone through four managers in as many years and had been losing an average of $250,000 a year, according to Barton. The agency projects a similar loss for fiscal year 2001-02. 

But since February, the BHA has been successful in reversing the agency’s most disturbing trend – the average loss of 11 Section 8 housing leases a month. 

HUD approved a BHA budget for up to 1,620 Section 8 leases. Currently there are 1,287 active leases. If the BHA is unable to use at least 95 percent of that budget, which is HUD will reduce funding to an agency that is already losing $250,000 a year. 

Barton said that the gains over the last three months are modest but that he is encouraged because July, August and September are usually very slow months. 

“These gains were made despite a summer slowdown in processing applicants on the Section 8 waiting list,” Barton said in a report to the BHA Board. “This slowdown is attributed to staff vacations, and an emphasis placed on public housing issues.”