The surprise resignation of the manager of the Berkeley Housing Authority has left City Councilmembers puzzled and Housing Department officials scrambling to find a replacement by the end of the month.
Director Sharon Jackson made the announcement to Councilmembers Tuesday night in the break between the Berkeley Housing Authority meeting and the Berkeley City Council meeting. The Housing Authority consists of all city councilmembers as well as two appointed tenant representatives.
But the real shock to the council, according to Councilmember Kriss Worthington, was Jackson’s revelation that she was under investigation by the city’s Housing Department for allegations of malfeasance.
“She told us that someone had found incorrect data in the Housing Authority database and accused her of entering incorrect data,” Worthington said.
Worthington said that Jackson did not give details as to the nature of the “incorrect data,” or who had accused her. He said that Housing Director Steve Barton told councilmembers that “it was a personnel matter, and he could not give out any confidential information about the matter at the present time.”
Councilmember Linda Maio said the accusation and investigation apparently stemmed from allegations of “falsifying data” in the Housing Authority computer database. She said that because of the nature of the Housing Authority’s password system at the time of the alleged data falsification—a password was needed to put data into the system, but all authorized employees were given the same password—department officials could not determine which employee entered data at any given time.
“The department is correcting that,” Maio said. “They are in the process of changing the system so that they can determine which employee was logged on and entering data at any given time.”
Maio said that she did not know if results of the Housing Department investigation would come back to the City Council.
“It depends on what they find,” she said, adding that Jackson told councilmembers that she was not responsible for the incorrect data entry.
“That fact that [Jackson] told us about the accusation at all was surprising,” Worthington added in a separate interview. “Usually when there’s an accusation against an employee, Personnel doesn’t want us to know about it.”
The councilmember said that he “didn’t get the impression” that Jackson was saying “there was a causal connection between the accusation and her resignation.”
Housing Director Barton, Jackson’s supervisor, said in a telephone interview that Jackson resigned because she’s “been in a high stress job for some time. She found another position that pays almost as much with a shorter commute and much less stress.”
Jackson, who served for two years as assistant Housing Authority manager before serving two years as manager, is taking on the job of deputy director of the Benicia Housing Authority.
Barton said he was “extremely disappointed” by Jackson’s departure.
“Good housing authority managers are hard to come by,” he added. “We’re going to have to recruit really fast to replace her.”
Maio added that the real story was how Jackson had risen up through the ranks to become manager of the Housing Authority.
“She’s a Berkeley girl who came to work for the city on the clerical staff and worked her way up the ranks to a position of authority,” Maio said. “She cut her teeth in the department. There’s not a lot of people who do that.”
The Berkeley Housing Authority is a city program operated out of the city’s Housing Department. It is charged with oversight of the city’s public housing programs, including 1800 individual Section 8 vouchers funded through the federal Housing and Urban Development Department, 100 project-based Section 8 units occupied mostly by formerly homeless individuals, and 75 public housing units owned and operated by the City of Berkeley.
Jackson’s resignation comes at a time when the Berkeley Housing Authority is struggling for its life.
Two years ago, the Daily Planet reported that the Berkeley Housing Authority’s Section 8 program was mismanaged, poorly staffed, and on the brink of insolvency, according to a sweeping independent study conducted at HUD’s request. The study found problems ranging from thousands of dollars lost in miscalculated rents to no procedures for managing a waiting list of 5,000 applicants for Section 8 housing vouchers, and a backlog of 900 housing units not inspected.
At the time, the Planet reported Housing Director Barton saying the report’s findings came as no surprise to him because the authority had flunked itself on repeated self-evaluations.
“The housing authority is lacking just about everywhere, and has been for some time,” Barton said at the time.
The Berkeley Housing Authority was later put on “troubled” status by HUD, which could allow the federal agency to disband the authority if it does not correct a list of deficiencies by June, including charges that the authority has not submitted required paperwork documenting its expenditures.
In that event, the city’s voucher program and public housing projects could be transferred to oversight by another local agency, including ones operated by Alameda County or the City of Oakland. But Worthington said that Housing Department officials and employees were confident that they could correct the deficiencies by the June deadline.
That, however, could come at a cost to the city.
According to Worthington, City Manager Phil Kamlarz has informed Councilmembers that the city manager has authorized $79,000 out of surplus Housing Authority funds to hire temporary clerical staff to catch up with the HUD-required paperwork.
Kamlarz has told councilmembers that the surplus funds are almost exhausted, and that council may have to appropriate as much as $100,000 out of the city’s general fund each year to pay for staff to keep up with the federal government’s reporting requirements.
Worthington called that expenditure “a small price to pay” for the city keeping its Housing Authority.›