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PETRA, the death of public housing

Submitted by News Desk on Tue, 07/20/2010 - 4:53pm


Berkeley - The scheme to privatize and sell Berkeley's 75 public housing units has stalled, and currently the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has not completed it's review of the disposition plan filed with HUD to dispose of Berkeley's public housing.

Around December 31, 2009, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) filed an application with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to dispose of it's public housing units, and expected HUD approval of the scheme in around 90 days. HUD approval has not occurred.

The City of Berkeley plans to sell it's public housing units to one or more non profit housing developers, and the BHA plans to finance the privatization of Berkeley's public housing units by looting the Section 8 program.

If all goes as planned, the developer/s plan to convert the units into the Section 8 Project-Based voucher program, a program for landlords in the private housing sector that allows landlords to charge above market rate rents to the poor, and the units will be subsidized with federal funding taken from the poor, in the Section 8 program.

In opposition, public housing and Section 8 tenants appeared at several Berkeley City Council meetings and other public meetings to protest and speak out against alleged illegal activities of the BHA, and the scheme to privatize and sell their 75 public housing units to an unnamed non profit housing developer.

Additionally, on January 19, 2010, public housing tenants held protest signs in front of Berkeley's Old City Hall in between harsh rain storms pounding the Bay Area before stepping inside the City Council meeting to demand the resignation of BHA Director Tia Ingram and BHA's Chair Carole Norris, for their involvement in the actions to privatize and sell Berkeley's public housing units.

Nearly 7 months later, Director Tia Ingram and BHA Commissioner Chair Carole Norris still remain in power, HUD has not yet approved of the BHA's disposition plan, and many of Berkeley's long-time public housing residents facing displacement from their housing feel the stress and anxiety, regarding the outcome of their future housing situation.

Meanwhile, the BHA hired Overland, Pacific and Cutler (OPC) to relocate Berkeley's public housing residents from their housing if the disposition plan is approved, and on July 16, OPC consultant Chad Wakefield started working on some notices to send out to Berkeley's public housing residents to let them know that he wants to have two half-hour meetings with the residents some time during early August. Wakefield wants to ask Berkeley's public housing residents what they want to do regarding their housing situation if the disposition plan is approved by HUD, even though many have already spoken out publicly against the scheme to sell off Berkeley's public housing, and Wakefield is already well aware of this.

In a bizarre effort to hoodwink Berkeley's public housing residents into believing that their public housing units are not really being privatized once ownership of the public housing units are transferred to a new owner in the privatized housing sector, in a recent June 17, letter from BHA Director Tia Ingram to public housing resident Keith Carlisle and Berkeley's public housing resident organization called Residents Awareness in Action (RAIA), Ingram congratulates Carlisle for reactivating RAIA, and formally acknowledges the groups opposition to the scheme to privatize and dispose of Berkeley's public housing, which she refers to as the repositioning project.

In part, BHA's Ingram writes; "I use the term repositioning as it more accurately reflects what we are attempting to do, and that is transfer assisted families from Public Housing to Section 8, not "removing" or even worse "disposing" of units. It is my hope that with time, and careful, thoughtful and consistent effort, we will be able to provide RAIA, and every current resident, sufficient information about how and why we arrived at the decision to pursue repositioning, and equally important, how repositioning can result in a win-win situation for current and future residents and the Berkeley Housing Authority."

Berkeley's public housing residents are not fooled by the campaign of lies and deceit, knowing very well that Section 8 is the subsidized program for tenants in the privatized housing market, and that it should not be confused with the public housing program, no matter what BHA's Ingram wants them to believe.

Documents clearly reveal that it was BHA Director Tia Ingram that signed the disposition plan that was filed with HUD to dispose of and remove Berkeley's public housing from the inventory of public housing units in Berkeley, with the intent to sell the units to one or more so-called non profit housing developers, upon HUD approval.

The Affordable Housing Swindle

During 1937, the U.S. Housing Act created the first public housing program, authorizing local housing authorities across the nation to build public housing that is financed through long-term bonds to serve low-income families.

Since the creation of public housing, additionally there are currently around 13 other major federal subsidized housing programs to assist the poor, including the Section 8 Tenant-Based voucher program, and the Section 8 Project-Based voucher program for tenants being subsidized in the private housing market place.

So-called privatized affordable housing developments should not be confused with public housing, despite the fact that the backers of a scheme to privatize our nations 1.2 million public housing units are doing their best to hoodwink the public into believing that public housing, and so-called affordable housing developments are one and the same.

Public housing provides housing to low-income families, the elderly, blind, disabled and households with no income at all, while so-called affordable housing developers have minimum income requirements that discriminate against the poor.

Affordable housing developers often charge above market rate rents in their buildings and want the public to believe that that they offer housing to the poor, but often these developers refuse to rent to the poor unless the poor are being subsidized through the Section 8 program, or some other federal subsidized housing program.

PETRA - Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance

The so-called affordable housing industry stands to make billions of dollars in a scheme called PETRA that would accelerate the privatization of public housing units all across the nation, if approved by Congress.

If the backers of a right-wing scheme to privatize Berkeley's public housing have it their way, and an Obama administration proposal called PETRA ( The Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance ) is approved by Congress, public housing programs across the nation may be terminated and around 1.2 million public housing units may become privatized in the near future, and placed at risk of bank foreclosures.

The Obama administration has been promoting far-reaching legislation (PETRA) to change the way our nations 2,400 public housing authorities (PHA's) operate in an effort to privatize our nations public housing, setting off a feud between 2.3 million public housing residents who are in opposition to the privatization of their housing, and the advocates and proponents of public housing privatization from the so-called affordable housing industry, who stand to make billions if they can get their hands on our nations 1.2 million public housing units.

The problem -- Congress has underfunded public housing through the years creating a huge backlog of repairs and maintenance, and all Congress needs to do is provide more funding to remedy the situation.

Instead of asking for more funding from Congress, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and the Obama administration want to privatize the 1.2 million public housing units in a complicated scheme to transfer ownership of our public housing units to so-called affordable housing developers that will charge above market rate rents being subsidized by the Section 8 program, believing that the new owners would then be able to tap into the equity of the properties to get loans from the private sector for the backlog of maintenance and repairs, as other property owners do in the market of privatized housing.

The privatization scheme threatens to displace hundreds of thousands of low-income families, elderly and the disabled from their public housing units if enacted into law, and future funding shortfalls in the Section 8 program would place the housing units at risk of bank foreclosure.

In addition, if PETRA is approved by Congress, the nations major 13 federal subsidized housing programs will be converted into one huge new hybrid program, with only one funding stream for the whole program. Currently each of the 13 subsidized housing programs have their own budget and funding streams, to make certain the funding reaches it's intended target. Once the funding streams are converted into one huge slush fund, no one will be able to tell how much funding for the poor, elderly or the disabled has been diverted to finance the public housing privatization scheme, called PETRA.

PETRA has been rejected by thousands across the nation including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and Congressman Barney Frank, but HUD and the Obama administration are moving forward as though they already have Congressional approval for PETRA as is evidenced in the recent HUD budget submitted for 2011.

HUD wants to reduce public housing funding by around $500 million in 2011, in addition to reducing funding for the elderly in the Section 202 housing program from $825 million to $274 million, and reducing funding for persons with disabilities in the Section 211 housing program currently from $300 million, to $90 million in 2011.

The Obama administration also wants to reduce the family reunification voucher program from $15 million in funding to zero, and wants to reduce the veterans supportive housing voucher program from $75 million to zero, for 2011.

HUD and the Obama administration are clearly trying to grab as much funding as is possible from the federal subsidized housing programs for veterans, low-income families, the blind, elderly and disabled to finance the PETRA scheme to privatize 1.2 million public housing units, in an effort to enrich the so-called affordable housing sector by billions of dollars with funding taken from the poor.

PETRA Forums -- As recent as July 13, the first of three special forums to promote PETRA on behalf of HUD and the Obama administration took place at the Urban Institute in Washington D.C., and two other forums are to take place sometime later during July.

Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@yahoo.com