by Lynda Carson
[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Obama administration is championing a proposal called PETRA, or the Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act. PETRA is the most extreme right-wing shift in housing policies since the inception of public housing in 1937.
Despite already being rejected by Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Congressman Barney Frank and thousands of public housing residents across the nation, during July three special forums to promote PETRA on behalf of the Obama administration took place in Washington, D.C.
If Congress enacts PETRA into law, public housing programs across the nation may be terminated, and our nation’s public housing units for the poor, elderly and disabled, will be privatized, sold off, and converted into market-rate housing developments for mixed-income communities.
In addition to terminating public housing programs across the nation, PETRA is a piece of anti-homeless legislation, because the Obama administration is planning to give Section 8 vouchers to the 1.2 million public housing households that may be displaced from their housing once PETRA goes into effect.
Public housing residents would be bumped to the head of the line in front of all the homeless families already waiting for Section 8 vouchers that are needed to end homelessness, and those in the waiting lists may remain homeless for years longer as a direct result.
PETRA and the Privatization of Public Housing in Berkeley
The scheme to privatize and sell Berkeley’s 75 public housing units has stalled, and at present, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has not completed its 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 HUD to dispose of its public housing units, and expected HUD approval of the scheme in 90 days. HUD approval has not yet occurred.
The City of Berkeley plans to sell its public housing units to nonprofit housing developers, and the BHA plans to finance the privatization of Berkeley’s public housing by looting the Section 8 program.
The developers 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. 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 speak out against alleged illegal activities of the BHA, and to protest the scheme to privatize and sell 75 public housing units to an unnamed nonprofit housing developer.
Also, on Jan. 19, 2010, public housing tenants held protest signs in front of Berkeley’s Old City Hall during the harsh rainstorms pounding the Bay Area, before stepping inside the City Council meeting to demand the resignation of BHA Director Tia Ingram and BHA Chair Carole Norris, for their involvement in the attempt to privatize and sell Berkeley’s public housing units.
Nearly seven months later, BHA Director Tia Ingram and BHA Commissioner Chair Carole Norris still remain in power, HUD has not yet approved the BHA’s disposition plan, and many of Berkeley’s public housing residents feel stress and anxiety from constantly facing displacement from their housing.
Meanwhile, the BHA hired Overland, Pacific and Cutler (OPC) to relocate Berkeley’s public housing residents if the disposition plan is approved. 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 he wants to have two meetings with the residents sometime in 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.
BHA’s Efforts to Deceive Public Housing Residents
In a bizarre effort to hoodwink public housing residents into believing that their housing units are not really being privatized once the units are transferred to a new owner in the private housing sector, BHA Director Tia Ingram sent a letter on June 17 to public housing resident Keith Carlisle and Berkeley’s public housing resident organization, Residents Awareness in Action (RAIA). Ingram congratulated Carlisle for reactivating RAIA, and formally acknowledged the group’s opposition to the scheme to privatize and dispose of Berkeley’s public housing, which she refers to as the “repositioning” project.
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 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 Ingram wants them to believe.
Documents clearly reveal that it was Ingram who signed the disposition plan filed with HUD to dispose of and remove Berkeley’s public housing from the inventory of public housing units, with the intent to sell the units to so-called nonprofit housing developers.
Affordable Housing Swindle
In 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, there are an additional 13 other federally 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 marketplace.
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 nation’s 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 subsidized through the Section 8 program, or some other federal housing program.
The so-called affordable housing industry stands to make billions of dollars if Congress approves PETRA, a scheme to accelerate the privatization of public housing all across the nation.
If the backers of this right-wing scheme to privatize public housing have their way, and the Obama administration’s PETRA proposal is approved by Congress, public housing programs across the nation may be terminated and 1.2 million public housing units may be privatized in the near future, and placed at risk of foreclosures.
The Obama administration is promoting PETRA to change the way our nation’s 2,400 public housing authorities operate in an effort to privatize public housing. This has set off a feud between 2.3 million public housing residents who are in opposition to the privatization of their housing, and the proponents of public housing privatization from the so-called affordable housing industry, who stand to make billions if they can get their hands on 1.2 million public housing units.
The problem with public housing is that Congress has underfunded it through the years, creating a huge backlog of repairs and maintenance. 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 to affordable housing developers that will charge above-market-rate rents subsidized by the Section 8 program, in the belief 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.
The privatization scheme threatens to displace hundreds of thousands of low-income families, elderly and the disabled from their public housing units, 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 nation’s 13 federally 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 its 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, PETRA.
PETRA has been denounced and 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 about $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 from $300 million to only $90 million.
The Obama administration also wants to reduce the family reunification voucher program from $15 million in funding to zero, and wants to reduce the veteran’s 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 possible from federally subsidized housing programs for veterans, low-income families, the blind, elderly and disabled, in order to finance the PETRA scheme to privatize 1.2 million public housing units, in an effort to enrich the affordable housing sector by billions of dollars with funding taken from the poor.
Activists are urging the public to contact their representatives to say no to PETRA.
Lynda Carson may be reached at email@example.com