Public Comment

Using Section 8 funding to dispose of Berkeley's public housing

By Lynda Carson
Tuesday April 27, 2010 - 03:15:00 PM

Berkeley -- During July 1944, when famed Lieutenant C.D. "Lucky" Lester of the Tuskegee Airmen shot down 3 Nazi enemy aircraft over Europe in a brief span of 4-6 minutes with his P-51 Mustang while on a mission to protect some B-17 Flying Fortresses on their way to bomb a German airfield in southern Germany, he probably had no idea then that his actions would lead to the day he became one of the founders in 1969 of a small venture capital firm called the Inner City Fund, that was later renamed ICF International. It now plays a direct role in the scheme of some high priced consultants who desire to grab Section 8 funding from the poor, to finance their master plan to privatize Berkeley's 75 public housing units. 

On Friday April 23, ICF International's (ICFi) vice president (consultant) Carole Norris from the multi-national's corporate San Francisco office, could be found at the North Berkeley Senior Center promoting the termination of Berkeley's public housing program by way of Agenda Items A & B of the Action Calendar, from her lofty position as the Chair of the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA), along with highly paid consultants Erik Novak and Scott Jepsen of EJP/Praxis Consulting Groups, including Jon Gresley, executive director of one of a few (33) controversial experimental MTW - Public Housing Authorities (MTW-PHAs), that do not have to abide by the normal federal laws protecting federally subsidized low-income renters/clients in the nation’s over 3,000 public housing authorities. 

This is the same Jon Gresley that was involved in the controversy over the notorious one strike policy, when his agency moved to evict 4 innocent elderly public housing residents of Oakland, for alleged crimes they did not commit, resulting in a huge struggle that was fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court by Anne Omura of the Eviction Defense Center, and a team of 26 local attorneys defending the rights of Oakland's public housing residents in 2002. 

The April 23 vote to pass the agenda items was part of a series of votes being orchestrated by the corporate consultants that have infiltrated the BHA, in their crusade to dismantle the BHA's public housing program, in an effort to privatize Berkeley's 75 public housing units. 

Berkeley's public housing tenant Keith Carlisle had the support of other low-income public housing residents who allowed him to speak on their behalf at the April 23, BHA meeting, even though he was cut short by the BHA's commissioners while doing his best at the meeting to speak-out against the scheme to terminate Berkeley's public housing program, in the struggle against the high priced consultants from ICF International, EJP Consulting Group, Praxis Consulting, and Overland, Pacific and Cutler consultants that have infiltrated the BHA. 

In addition, Janny Castillo, Community Builder, with Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency (BOSS), was also at the meeting to offer support to the mostly African-American low-income households trying to save Berkeley's public housing from being privatized. 

Currently, public housing is home to around 3 million seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income families, and plays an essential role to provide services for the elderly poor and others -- while contributing significantly to local economies by the direct spending of $8.1 billion a year by PHAs on capital improvements, maintenance, and operations of their public housing projects, while generating an additional $8.2 billion in direct economic activity throughout the nation's communities (See 2007 PHA economic study - Joint Release from CLPHA, HAI Group, PHADA). 

In a July 2009 BHA report, EJP consultants claim that $3,608,693 is needed in hard costs to repair Berkeley's public housing units, and that Berkeley's public housing program is operating at a loss of $106,000 per year. However, contradicting those figures, in an October 2009 BHA release by ICFi / BHA chair Norris and BHA Executive Director Tia Ingram, they offer different figures stating that the BHA needs over $4.5 million in hard cost repairs for its public housing units, and that Berkeley's public housing program is operating at a loss of $150,000 per year. Around a million dollar difference, in conflicting numbers. 

Based on the information in the same July 2009, BHA consultants report, 86.5% of the residents in the BHA's public housing program identify themselves as Black / African-American, 11.2 % as white, and 2.2% as Asian. 

The disposition plan (application DDA0003874) to terminate Berkeley's public housing program, was filed by the BHA in late December 2009, is currently under review by Arona Wiley, and the BHA has been expecting the Housing and Urban Development Agency (HUD) to approve the plan to terminate Berkeley's public housing program sometime in April, 2010, but that approval by HUD may not materialize until sometime in June, or later. 

Despite the bleak outcome of the BHA's April 23, commission meeting that again voted to dispose of Berkeley's public housing units, some of Berkeley's low-income public housing residents believe that they have won a victory, because the consultants convinced them that they may have up to a year, before being displaced from their long-time homes in the Berkeley community. 


Lynda Carson may be reached at