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Unaffordable housing lies in disguise

August 13, 2012

Farewell, University Avenue Cooperative Homes, Berkeley

by Vivian Thorp, POOR Magazine

It’s easy to see why people loved living in – and owning – what used to be University Avenue Cooperative Homes (UACH) in Berkeley. Those who terminated their ownership and usurped their shares must believe that poor people don’t belong in such a beautiful place.
In 2006 after nearly four years being homeless and living five years in public housing in Oakland, I moved with my children from East Oakland to the University Avenue Cooperative Homes (UACH) in Berkeley, a non-profit affordable housing cooperative that was founded by low-income Berkeley residents in 1982 with a tenant-run board of directors. UACH was an affordable housing cooperative with HUD funding that requires only 30 percent of a tenant’s income as rent.

This allowed me to have the ability to afford a place to live with my children, even at times when I may be unemployed. I felt secure with this housing and although I was not crazy about The John Stewart Co. managing UACH, the on-site manager has always been good with all of us tenants.

In addition, UACH was a cooperative that we tenants were supposed to own. Our monthly payments made us part owners of the co-op, each of us with “shares” of the ownership. However, this program is no longer in existence as of July 1, 2012. Why? UACH had quietly been sold to a Berkeley-based non-profit organization called Resources for Community Development (RCD), which has already begun to change everything in a very arbitrary way. At the end of the day, this change is really not in the best interest of the tenants at UACH at all.

In October 2011, when I received a formal letter from The John Stewart Co. saying that UACH’s 20-year HUD funding was going to expire and that they would be offering us tenants the option of being given a Section 8 voucher, me and the other tenants didn’t know nor hear anything about RCD purchasing our housing cooperative until the transaction was already done. RCD quietly bought UACH in January 2012. All of us UACH tenants would not find out about the RCD buy-out until RCD sent us a letter around June 1, inviting us to attend a “meet and greet” meeting with them at our housing site on June 16.

At the June 16 meeting – which was not much of a “greet” – representatives from RCD addressed us tenants with a very passive-aggressive approach, telling everyone who was in attendance that they (RCD) had to make a very quick decision by both July 1 and 25 to get tax credits from the government – HUD – to rehabilitate all of the housing infrastructure at UACH.

They also told us that our original lease is no longer valid. They said UACH, which obviously went defunct, as University Avenue Homes Inc. went belly-up after they were unable to come up with money to pay back a $1.8 million balloon loan that UACH had since 1982. A representative from the City of Berkeley was in attendance, doing his best to convince us that this transition was a great opportunity for us. What he didn’t tell us is that the City of Berkeley only pays $1.00 a year for the parcel our housing cooperative sits on. RCD also told us that we would have to deal with UACH to get back any of our shares.

UACH was a cooperative that we tenants were supposed to own. Our monthly payments made us part owners of the co-op, each of us with “shares” of the ownership. However, this program is no longer in existence as of July 1, 2012. Why?

How can any of the UACH tenants get back our shares – money that tenants invested into UACH, as everyone was told that they were part owners when they moved in, including me – when UACH no longer exists? We also were told that we would have to pay a new deposit as well. We were also told that there would be a lot of construction done on all of the UACH units with some units needing more work, so we would be temporarily displaced out of our units for any amount of time from 15 days to four months.

However, I heard that it would be more like six months. Also, all of us tenants who would be temporarily displaced would be required to live in semi-sleazy hotels along San Pablo Avenue and still have to pay full rent costs – and my rent is nearly market-rate these days. In addition, our tenant-run board of directors was forced to dissolve. We have lost all of our cooperative tenant rights now. We were also told by RCD that we are no longer a cooperative any more. We are now just tenants.

The POOR Magazine/Prensa POBRE family, including Vivian and her daughters, Janina and Jasmine, protest the sit/lie law.
This has become a nightmare for me and many other tenants at UACH. We feel disenfranchised and disrespected, not being given due process in a timely manner, so that we would be more informed on this issue. I feel like I have been hit in the face with hot oil. I am also very concerned about some of the other tenants – the very elderly who have lived here for many years and the severely disabled who are unable to physically hold and read the letters and 72-hour notices RCD keeps taping to our doorknobs.

Many of us tenants find RCD’s continuous “visits” to our units invasive. I suspect that RCD might be violating ADA laws, as many tenants were not present on that Saturday morning on June 16, with only 10 of us present at that meeting. There are over 140 tenants living at UACH in Berkeley.

RCD, UACH, The John Stewart Co. and the City of Berkeley are keeping everything secret from the media. RCD claims that the dissolution of UACH in Berkeley is not connected to the recent issue with Berkeley Housing Authority’s co-ops being bought out. RCD is one of the local Bay Area-based non-profit housing development companies that is setting a new trend in the way affordable housing is defined. I work in Berkeley as an advocate, helping very low-income communities with housing resources, and I can truly say that RCD, along with The John Stewart Co. and Affordable Housing Associates make it very difficult to house very low-income people.

This has become a nightmare for me and many other tenants at UACH. We feel disenfranchised and disrespected, not being given due process in a timely manner.

RCD has set a minimum income requirement at nearly all of their housing sites with rent costs starting out at over $750 a month. This excludes most poor people, who are unable to afford that type of rent cost on a very limited income. This is not affordable housing.

I do not know what other rabbits RCD will pull out of their hat next, as they have shown disregard for us tenants at UACH, many who have lived here since it was built in 1982. Berkeley is definitely on a trend of GENTRIFICATION and CLASS GENOCIDE, making all of their so-called affordable housing unaffordable, discriminating against low-income communities of color with forced displacement through draconian policies to profiteer on, such as the recently proposed sit/lie law in the so-called liberal city of Berkeley.

I do not feel welcome here anymore. Affordable housing in Berkeley is nothing but a myth – lies in disguise.

Read more about issues of poverty and race written by the people who face them daily at POOR Magazine/POOR News Network, www.poormagazine.org.

 

5 thoughts on “Unaffordable housing lies in disguise

  1. Vivian Thorp

    I, Vivian Thorp, from POOR Magazine who wrote this article want to clarify a few things with Ms. Kathy Harr and anyone else who has read it. First of all, UACH wasw a citizen-established non-profit Berkeley housing cooperative' until it was bought out by RCD in 2012. And, although it is technically not a part of Berkeley Housing Authority, UACH is HUD funded and sits on City of Berkeley land just as BHA properites do. Do note that recently, nearly all of the 'cooperatives' that were run by BHA were sold. Ironically, and conveniently, when UACH's 20 yr. HUD contract came up for renewal in 2012, our little citizen established cooperative met the same fate. What I am saying in this article that there is 'definitely' a correlation between BHA co-ops and our co-op, as they are all sitting on property parcels owned by the City of Berkeley, who only pays $1.00 a year, as we are considered HUD funded 'affordable housing'. I have lived at UACH for six years, so I know what's going on with my housing. By the way Ms. Harr, do you live in affordable housing in Berkeley…or at UACH? -Vivian Thorp, PNN (Berkeley, CA)

    Reply
  2. Daniel Gies

    Vivian, I wish you could go into more detail about the reasons why UACH collapsed. If, as you say, the tenants were owners, then I would expect UACH had a board of directors whose members were all tenants. Surely the tenants who made up the board knew about and approved the sale to RCD, or should have been aware of a pending loan default. I understand that for a tenant not involved with the management of the co-op this must all come as a shock but some more background on how we got into this mess would be very helpful.

    If the housing cooperative collapsed as a result of poor management that is very sad, but the blame lies with your neighbors on the board, not with the organization brought in to pick up the pieces. Finally, your use of the word 'CLASS GENOCIDE' in all caps is needlessly inflammatory and trivializes victims of real genocide; you know, the kind where people are actually murdered. — Daniel Gies, (Albany, CA)

    Reply
  3. Betsy Morris

    Hi Vivan,
    Just heard the news through the Berkeley Coop Network/East Bay Cooperative Housing Coalition
    I live in a limited equity resident owned and managed community near you in Berkeley. i agree on the value and need for more places like UACH. Ditto though on Daniel's question — what happened to your board? Several other limited equity housing coops I know of have been dealing with the HUD refinancing and how to pay for maintenance when incomes are really low. It's a challenge.

    You might talk with Crossroads Mutual Housing down the street. When RCD bought their building in the 1990s (from private owners to preserve affordability), the residents wanted to self-manage, and eventually they did buy their building with RCD's help in negotiating loans etc.

    Check out: http://coopnetwork.net/home/housing_coops

    Here's the link to the Berkeley Cooperative Housing Network and the East Bay Cooperative Housing Coalition. We have quarterly meetings, next one's in October at the Oregon Park).

    Also, below is a link to the 2011 city memo outlining the plan for RCD's work and also the other resident-managed affordable housing coops also seeking help from the city to refinance and deal with deferred maintenance. Thought it was interesting.
    http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/uploadedFiles/Clerk/

    - Betsy Morris
    Berkeley

    Reply

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