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‘Affordable’ housing should be affordable

Saturday June 08, 2002

To the Editor: 

If the Affordable Housing Association's proposed Outback Senior Housing Project has 10 market rate units and is receiving 27 project based Section 8 vouchers, just what part of it can be called “affordable?” 

Project-based Section 8 allows landlords to set their rents as high as 120% of fair market rate but, with the current administration's cutbacks on services for people with low-income and special needs, there are no guarantees that this program will continue.  

If Section 8 is no longer provided will AHA be required to lower its rents to 30% of a tenant's income, and what is the city of Berkeley doing to ensure this continuing affordability?  

Berkeley is investing or guaranteeing over $3 million in this property which is valued at $650,000, and the City should do everything in its power to categorically secure the permanent affordability of these housing units.  

To protect its investments, Berkeley should also closely monitor AHA's performance in the maintenance and upkeep of this project. 

As a self certifying nonprofit organization, AHA's properties are not subject to annual inspection by the Housing Department.  

I live in a home that has been managed by AHA for well over a year, but because it is owned by the Redevelopment Agency, it has been inspected by the Housing Authority.  

Although the Agency has budgeted over $25,000 for property management, AHA has steadfastly refused to conduct any of the repairs needed to correct numerous violations of the HQS in these properties, despite repeated notices from the Housing Authority.  

Some of these violations are serious hazards and are causing structural decay. They have also refused to meet with the tenants as promised by the City nearly a year and a half ago.  

Our contracts with the Agency allow us to speak out about these violations, a freedom not granted the tenants of a self certifying management with project based Section 8. 

Those tenants risk not only eviction but loss of their housing subsidy, which stays with the property, if they complain about their living conditions or needed repairs. 

Perhaps one reason that few developers are willing to build new housing in Berkeley is the lack of incentives. With just a couple of organizations receiving multiple funding opportunities, the profits of a few are ensured, leaving little to entice others. This project alone guarantees AHA at least $35,000 a month in rent (not counting the commercial space) with no property taxes to pay.  

Nonprofit is not the same as not-for-profit, and these organizations, like any bureaucracy, exist in order to raise increasingly more money to keep themselves going. HTF loans are long-term and low-interest and are often soon forgiven or forgotten.  

As one of Berkeley's two self-certifying organizations, AHA can put off maintenance allowing their property to decay which guarantees the future approval of additional HTF funds for repairs. The project-based subsidies ensure that their tenants, face converted to limited equity coops so that tenants become owners with a stake in the upkeep of their homes and a shot at the American Dream.  

Give the community the same breaks that you give those who are supposed to serve them.