Recently the public housing residents of Berkeley received a shocking notice, dated Oct. 27, announcing that the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) is preparing to convert their public housing units into privately owned housing subsidized by Section 8 voucher rental assistance, and that their housing would be transferred to a local nonprofit housing developer.
The BHA’s scheme to file a Disposition Plan with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during late December 2009, to dispose of 75 units of federal and state scattered public housing units threatens to displace Berkeley’s poor from their housing by the spring of 2010. The BHA expects approval of the Disposition Plan by HUD in the spring, and has already been searching for a so-called nonprofit developer to transfer Berkeley’s 75 public housing units to.
The 75 units of low-income public housing in 18 sites scattered around Berkeley were built in the 1980s, and were created to house the poor in 44 three-bedroom units, and 31 four-bedroom units.
The BHA hired the firm of Overland, Pacific and Cutler, Inc., to represent it and to assist in the disposition plan, and the displacement of the residents from their public housing units once the Disposition Plan is approved by HUD, and the Housing and Community Development agency, of the state of California.
Berkeley’s public housing tenants have been alarmed by these developments and have been meeting once a week on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon at Intercity Services at 3269 Adeline St., in Berkeley, to unite and organize against the plans to privatize and transfer the BHA’s public housing units to a so-called nonprofit developer. The public housing residents invite the public to get involved in saving Berkeley’s public housing from being privatized and disposed of permanently.
Organizers believe that their housing stability is at risk, and that through their meetings leaders can emerge and speak truth to power in an effort to keep their families from being displaced from their homes, by the underhanded scheme to dispose of and privatize Berkeley’s public housing to an unnamed so-called nonprofit housing developer.
Keith Carlisle is a resident of Berkeley’s public housing and said, “The disposition plan calls for the selling of the buildings to a private developer with deep enough pockets to totally renovate the units. The housing authority says that the units need at least $6 million in repairs. The average renovation is slated to receive $60,000 to $75,000 dollars in upgrades. The problem is that once these units receive that kind of upgrade, low-income people will not be able to afford them. This is gentrification thinly veiled under the banner of urban renewal. The majority of the tenants are African-American, Latino, or foreign- born nationals. Most are low to very low income. Many are disabled and have become middle aged waiting on quality- of-life improvements promised by each successive housing authority executive director and their staff.”
“We feel that we are being shown the door because those who are charged with our care have abandoned that mission for profitability and that the plan is to get rid of low-income African-American families in the city of Berkeley, California. This is being done very quietly. The media is not being contacted by the housing authority because they don’t want any opposition from the concerned public. It is truly the eleventh hour for many of us in Berkeley’s public housing. We want to get our story out in front of the general public in the hope that public outcry will stop the proposed action of the Berkeley Housing Authority,” Carlisle said.
The loss of Berkeley’s public housing units means there would be one less option for the poor needing a place to call home, and would result in a great loss to future generations of low-income families, the elderly and disabled who may not have much of an income, and would become homeless if not for the existence of public housing.
Lynda Carson is a tenants’ rights advocate and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.