Housing Authority Passes Reorganization Plan

Friday June 18, 2004

After some discussion and parliamentary confusion, the Berkeley Housing Authority board Tuesday night passed both a budget and a reorganization plan proposed by the city housing director. In addition, the authority learned that it was in better financial shape than previously believed. 

The authority, which oversees the city’s stock of public housing and manages the federal Section 8 housing program, received welcome news this week from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

After dire warnings from a HUD-appointed consultant that the federal agency was not going to fund any of the authority’s 1,841 Section 8 housing vouchers that weren’t leased before last August, HUD announced it would in fact provide funding. 

Under Section 8, a tenant pays 30 percent of monthly income and HUD provides the balance to the housing authority, which then pays the entire monthly rent to the landlord. Had HUD withheld voucher payments, the housing authority could have been forced to drop people off the program.  

HUD funding will come in at nearly $10 less per month for the average Section 8 rental, resulting in a $196,000 deficit. However, Berkeley will be permitted to use its money in a HUD reserve account to meet the shortfall. 

HUD did deliver some bad news. The agency will follow through with a previously-proposed 13 percent reduction in annual administration fees offered to housing authorities. The cut will cost the Berkeley Housing Authority $73,000 this year and $212,000 in fiscal year 2005, according to City Housing Director Steve Barton.  

Despite the fee reduction, the BHA projects a year-end $31,000 surplus for fiscal year 2004. 

That’s good news for the Housing Authority, which last month was the target of a scathing report from HUD. A consultant for the federal agency found that the authority was mismanaged, poorly staffed, and on the brink of insolvency. 

In responding to the consultant’s report and diminishing HUD resources, Barton proposed a staffing reorganization that would have shuttled three clerks to different city jobs and eventually have added a new employee who could help over-worked housing representatives oversee the voucher program. 

However, Barton never had an opportunity to run the plan through the clerks’ union—SEIU Local 535—and at Tuesday’s meeting, a union member raised concerns to the housing authority’s board, comprised of the City Council and representatives Pinkie Payne and Zelda Clark. 

Worried about the union jobs and the lack of time to consider the proposal, the board voted 7-6 (Spring, Worthington Breland Shirek, Clark and Payne, yes) not to accept the authority’s staffing chart that accompanied its $3 million budget. 

Barton, however, warned that the authority couldn’t implement its HUD-required reforms without approval of its proposed reorganization. 

“I would like to remind everybody of the consultant’s recommendation that the manager of the housing authority be allowed to manage the housing authority and let there be a minimum of interference in that management,” he said 

Councilmember Maudelle Shirek quickly offered a motion to reconsider the vote, and in a confusing roll call, where two members accidentally voted against their previous vote, the housing authority board reversed itself. Then by a 7-6 margin, with Shirek casting the deciding vote, the board approved both the BHA’s budget and organizational restructuring.