Housing Authority Welcomes New Acting Manager By Suzanne La Barre

Friday February 24, 2006

Less than a month after Director Sharon Jackson hastily departed from the Berkeley Housing Authority, a new chief has stepped in to lead the agency through tough times. 

On Tuesday, Housing Department Director Stephen Barton announced that Beverli Marshall will fill the role of acting manager for the Berkeley Housing Authority, the governing body for Berkeley’s Section 8 housing assistance program and 75 public housing units. The authority is composed of city councilmembers and two tenant representatives. 

“I see this a great opportunity to make change for the better,” Marshall said of her new job Tuesday.  

Marshall, an employee of the city of Berkeley since 2003, has worked as the senior management analyst for the Parks Recreation and Waterfront Department and most recently as the finance manager for the Berkeley Public Library. Her work experience also includes employment for housing agencies in Alaska and San Francisco. 

She takes on the director’s position at a crucial moment in the authority’s history, as a deadline to revamp the city’s Section 8 program—or risk dissolution—fast approaches. 

Last year, the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department, the federal agency that funds Section 8 vouchers, branded the Berkeley Housing Authority “troubled,” and demanded that it better manage its Section 8 program or surrender oversight duties to another agency like the Alameda County or Oakland Housing Authority. 

Among the deficiencies cited, the Berkeley agency has failed to meet annual deadlines re-certifying Section 8 recipients, has not completed ample unit inspections in a timely manner and has insufficiently reported its activities to HUD.  

Matters were further complicated when a recent audit revealed that someone logged false data on the incomes of 61 Section 8 clients. 

Jackson, who directed the authority for two years, announced Jan. 17 that she was under investigation for the incident then tendered her resignation. At the time, no causal connection between her departure and the allegations was found. Jackson has since gone on to direct the Benicia Housing Authority. 

Housing Department staff corrected the erroneous data, but at a cost. They will expend $17,000 to install a new security system. 

To meet the gamut of HUD’s requirements, the authority is expected to spend a total $60,000 on security, new software and personnel pay, Barton said. 

HUD attaches point values to its mandates, and according to a Feb. 21 report, the Berkeley Housing Authority must have 77 percent of the total points possible. It currently has 43 percent. The deadline for compliance is June 30. 

On Tuesday, Mayor Tom Bates asked Marshall if it was possible for the authority to meet its goals. She said yes, but when he asked if it was probable, she hesitated. 

“It’s too soon to commit to that,” she said in a phone interview Wednesday. 

Marshall has high hopes for a new data system that will automate reporting and lighten administrative duties for employees. It’s slated for installation March 6. 

By March 21, Marshall expects to have a clearer picture of the future of the Berkeley Housing Authority. 

Councilmember Darryl Moore hopes prospects are good. He fears that if the city loses control of its Section 8 program, “It will mean that we had failed at our public assistance housing program,” he said. “It’s a black mark on the city.” 

Though as a local entity, the authority is in a state of disarray, he said that appropriation by a federal agency leaves Berkeley Section 8 recipients vulnerable to too many unknowns, such as how cases will be managed and where residents will turn when they need further assistance. 

At Tuesday’s meeting, Moore, who has worked with Marshall in her capacity at both the Parks Recreation and Waterfront Department and the public library, said Marshall has “a Herculean effort” before her, but that “she is the person who is up to the task.” 

He said, “Hopefully, Beverli will be able to pull us out of this fire.””