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PETRA promotes doom for public housing

October 6, 2010

by Lynda Carson

All public housing is worth saving, if only because the need is so enormous and so urgent. Public housing was not always in terrible condition, however, and, even today, some is not ugly, such as this public housing project in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania.
On Sept. 27, 2010, activists and public housing residents gathered in front of the Los Angeles Housing Authority Commission to protest the agency’s 2011 plan to privatize 15 large public housing projects. In addition, they protested against the scheme by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Obama administration to fully privatize all of our nation’s 1.2 million public housing units through a proposal called PETRA (The Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance Act).

HUD is expects to push its PETRA proposal through the U.S. Senate during the last week of September and hopes to seek full congressional approval in the very near future for this far-right draconian legislation to terminate public housing programs across the nation.

In Berkeley, the scheme to privatize and sell Berkeley’s 75 public housing units has stalled, and HUD has not yet completed its review of the disposition plan.

On Dec. 31, 2009, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) filed an application with HUD to dispose of its public housing and expected HUD approval of the scheme in around 90 days. Now BHA expects HUD approval by the end of September.

The City of Berkeley plans to sell its public housing to one or more nonprofit housing developers, and the BHA plans to finance the privatization by looting the Section 8 program.

If all goes as planned, 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 them to charge above market rate rents to the poor. The units are then subsidized with federal funding taken from the poor in the Section 8 housing voucher program.

In opposition to the privatization scheme, 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 nonprofit housing developer.

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

Nearly nine months later, Ingram and Norris still remain in power, HUD has not yet approved the BHA’s disposition plan, and many of Berkeley’s long-time public housing residents facing displacement feel intense stress and anxiety regarding the outcome and their future housing situation.

PETRA: Preservation, Enhancement and Transformation of Rental Assistance

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, 13 other major federally subsidized housing programs have been added to assist the poor, including the Section 8 tenant-based voucher program and the Section 8 project-based voucher program.

The so-called affordable housing industry stands to make a fortune in a scheme called PETRA that would accelerate the privatization of public housing units all across the nation if approved by Congress. Leaders in the so-called affordable housing industry have convinced the Obama administration to terminate public housing programs and instead to transfer 1.2 million public housing units to nonprofit developers in a privatization scheme that stands to make them billions.

In addition, if PETRA is approved by Congress, the nation’s 13 major 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 programs has its own budget and funding stream 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 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 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 is clearly trying to grab as much funding as possible from the federally 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.

Activists are urging the public to contact their representatives to say no to PETRA and to go to this link to sign a PETITION to save our nation’s public housing: http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/save-public-housing.html.

Lynda Carson may be reached at http://tenantsrule@yahoo.com.

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