Despite Budget Shortfall, Council Approves Funds for Affordable Housing Study, Black Infant Program

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Monday February 15, 2010 - 12:05:00 PM

Despite a $10 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year, the Berkeley City Council made a commitment to the Black Infant Health Program at its Tuesday meeting.  

The council, with some opposition, also approved a nexus study to highlight the need for affordable housing in light of the California Supreme Court Palmer decision which wipes out Berkeley’s inclusionary housing ordinance, along with those in other cities statewide. 


Black Infant Health Program  


Although the City of Berkeley’s public and mental health programs are in dire straits because of state cuts, the Black Infant Health program will get a boost of $72,000 from the city's general fund to make up a nearly $100,000 deficit. 

The program, which has a $300,000 budget, aims to reduce the number of low birth weight infants born to African American women in the city by providing free counseling, social support, parenting education and health service referrals. 

Vicki Alexander, who chairs the program’s advisory board, supported the program before the council on Tuesday. She thanked the City Council and City Manager Phil Kamlarz for figuring out a way to keep most of the services alive. 

“We were glad we weren’t eliminated,” she told Kamlarz. 

In the past, Black Infant Health Program staff have lobbied the council to keep funding the program. It’s one of the very few city-funded programs which benefits from the current budget. 

The city’s Public Health deficit currently stands at $2.7 million. In addition to the $638,000 loss to the HIV-AIDS and Black Infant Health programs, the division runs a structural deficit in its key operating funds, which receive money from state grants and sales tax and vehicle license fee revenues, all of which are on a downward spiral. 

Kamlarz said he intends to return to City Council March 9 with a more concise information on how various programs could be trimmed and restructured to balance the deficit. 

After losing state funding, the Black Infant Health Program was reorganized in an effort to keep it afloat, “with funding cobbled together from existing resources.” 

However, Kamlarz warned that the program would require additional support. The advisory board is actively seeking other funding sources. 


Council Says OK to Nexus Study  


With a little opposition, the Berkeley City Council voted to approve a $30,000 nexus study to examine affordable housing policies in light of the Palmer/Sixth Street Properties v. City of Los Angeles decision that essentially wiped out local inclusionary housing requirements which had bbeen imposed by cities like Berkeley and Los Angeles. Condo developers will still have to provide affordable units. 

In order to try to prevent a negative impact on affordable housing in Berkeley, the City Manager proposed doing a study which would show that there was a need for affordable housing in the city. 

Although Councilmembers Laurie Capitelli and Gordon Wozniak urged the council to wait until June to do the study because of the current budget crisis, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said it was time to act immediately. 

“The ruling is a drastic threat to the one policy that has created half of the affordable housing in the city,” Worthington said. “We need to respond to it quickly. It might generate hundreds of affordable units. Or it might generate one, but even that makes a difference.” 

The council finally voted 6-3 to approve the funds, with Councilmembers Capitelli, Wozniak and Susan Wengraf voting against it.