On May 10, the office of Mayor Tom Bates sent out a press release to announce that seven new board members have been chosen for the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA), as part of the effort to salvage the embattled agency from a HUD takeover, and to keep it under local Berkeley control.
On May 22, the full City Council is expected to approve the mayor’s pick for the BHA, which includes many well respected members of the community. The seven new board members are to replace the old BHA board members which included the mayor, the full City Council, and two tenant board members receiving housing assistance from the BHA.
Despite the assurances that the City of Berkeley is doing all that is possible to get the BHA back on track, and to pull it out of it’s status as a troubled agency, the mayor sent the wrong message by re-appointing two of the old board members back to the BHA.
Dorthy Hunt and Adolph Moody, were with the old BHA board, and it is deceptive of the mayor to announce that seven new board members were appointed to the BHA, when there are actually only five new members being appointed.
This is a bad sign, and raises the possibility that city officials are not really serious about fixing the numerous problems facing the housing authority through the years.
As board members, Hunt and Moody remained largely silent as the problems grew within the BHA through the years, and this is very troublesome to Section 8 tenants that expected more from these two tenant board members.
After discussing this with several members of the tenant’s group called Save Berkeley Housing Authority, it was apparent no one felt that re-appointing old board members to the new board, was a real solution to resolving the problems at the BHA.
In addition, recent reports reveal that problems with the BHA’s Section 8 program have become so severe that it’s become apparent that landlords have actually been charging rent to dead people for several months and more in Berkeley, while the BHA kept making payments to these greedy landlords.
In other cases, former landlords still kept receiving rent checks from the BHA, long after the tenants moved away, and it turns out that the BHA ended up making payments to both old and new landlords simultaneously, for several months and more. Full details of these very serious problems have not yet been fully disclosed to the public.
Since April of 2004, the nation’s Section 8 program was switched from being a fully funded voucher based program, to an underfunded budget based program, and every dollar that is now being misspent by the BHA, it ends up taking away funding from all the other voucher holders needing help in the program.
These serious types of problems need to be remedied immediately, and the landlords need to return the money that they did not deserve back to the BHA, so that the money can be used to house real tenants who are in need.
To the good, out of the so-called seven new board members appointed by the mayor, at least two of them seem promising because one has experience in affordable housing projects, and another was employed in the past by the Housing Action Coalition.
As well meaning as the other new appointees may be, it does not appear that they have the real experience needed to run the BHA, during such a critical period in it’s history.
At this point, the BHA needs new board members that have some knowledge and understanding of HUD’s policies, and will not just be political appointees that are expected to rubberstamp the failed old policies of City Manager Phil Kamlarz and BHA’s Steve Barton.
The elderly, disabled and poor need Berkeley’s housing authority, and the opportunity to save this housing authority from reaching a point of total collapse seems to diminish day by day.
Lynda Carson is a member of Save Berkeley Housing Authority.