To the Editor:
Thank you for your ongoing coverage and reporting on the issue of affordable housing in Berkeley. Affordable Housing Associates is honored to have the opportunity to develop new affordable housing throughout Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, and is proud of our record preserving and rehabilitating some of the City of Berkeley's most at-risk affordable housing stock. There have been several recent letters in the Berkeley Daily Planet that have misstated our record and our mission, and in the name of clarification we feel compelled to write this perspective.
A recent letter writer ("Affordable housing should be affordable,” June 8-9) implies several mistruths about AHA's work,mission, and record.
First, to be clear, AHA is a 501(c)(3) public benefit corporation - a "nonprofit" or "not-for-profit" organization. Like all other nonprofits, we are driven by our mission - to provide cost-effective housing to low and very-low income households - and not driven to generate profits. None of our volunteer board members or staff members are unduly enriched by our organization, and any excess revenue that our developments generate is either reinvested into the ongoing maintenance of our buildings or used to develop additional affordable housing projects.
Far from being "self-certifying”, AHA's nonprofit status is certified by the cities we work in, the State of California, and the IRS. Our nonprofit status is also certified by the hundreds of individuals, corporation and foundation grantmakers that donate their resources to AHA to ensure that this type of work is taking place in our community.
Furthermore, we are one of the most accessible and accountable nonprofit housing developers and owners in the area. AHA uniquely develops, rehabilitates, manages, and maintains the properties we acquire and build. Many of our staff members were or currently are residents in our affordable housing projects. Not only is AHA accountable to our funders, but we are also accountable to our tenants and residents, a responsibility we do not take lightly.
A recent letter writer implies that AHA is an absentee landlord or that we intentionally run our projects into disrepair to make money. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact the opposite is correct - AHA uses a combination of public and private money and resources to acquire severely dilapidated buildings, rehabilitate the buildings, and then to rent them back at deeply affordable levels to the tenants. Like all property owners, and especially because we are stewards of public funds, all of our properties are subject to regular inspections from the city of Berkeley and the Housing Authority. All of our properties are well maintained and in compliance with HUD's Housing Quality Standards (HQS).
The author of the letter also implies that our use of project-based Section 8 certificates, or our acceptance of tenants that hold Section 8 certificates, somehow removes the affordability from the units. Again, nothing could be further from the truth. Section 8 -whether held by a tenant or assigned to a unit in a new building - ensures that a low or very-low income household only pays 30 percent of their monthly income to rent, with the local housing authority making up the difference. If the
Section 8 program was eliminated, all of AHA-owned units would still have restricted, below-market rents, affordable to those at 30 percent to 60 percent of the area median income (this is between $26,000 to $44,000 for a family of four).
Finally, one other point has to be addressed. The author implies that tenants in AHA-owned developments do not have the “freedom to speak out... about needed repairs”. Such an absurd statement needs to be refuted on its face. Tenants and residents in AHA-owned or managed properties have the same rights and responsibilities as all other renters. Our tenants regularly inform us of maintenance and repair needs, and hold us accountable to meet these needs. While a tenant may be evicted for failure to pay rent or for violating their lease or rental agreements, no tenant of AHA has ever been evicted for informing AHA or others about maintenance needs, repairs, or general concerns with their living situation or AHA's performance as property manager.
AHA is proud to have our record as a local nonprofit housing developer and property manager speak for itself. We welcome all interested parties to visit our new website at www.ahainc.org
Ali R. Kashani