Stealing public housing from Oakland’s poor

by Lynda Carson

Ron-Dellums-public-housing-tenants-20081, Stealing public housing from Oakland’s poor, Local News & Views Oakland – Terri is a middle-aged poor Black homeless woman on General Assistance, who was lucky enough to find a one bedroom public housing unit on Kirkham Street in West Oakland for only $61 per month for rent, including the security deposit. After two years on Oakland’s public housing waiting list, Terri was notified during the past week by the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) that a one-bedroom apartment had become available for her.

With no means of support other than General Assistance (GA), which aids indigent adults with a maximum cash grant of only $336 per month in Alameda County, Terri feels extremely grateful that public housing exists to help people like her to get off the streets and into a home of their own.

Even the worst of Oakland’s crime ridden bedbug infested hotels charge way more than what GA recipients can afford on a monthly basis for rent, and most notorious so-called nonprofit housing organizations refuse to rent to the poor unless they have Section 8 vouchers that can be exploited or have an income of at least $1,000 per month.

Without public housing, there would be no home for Terri or millions of others like her across the nation who are down on their luck, lack enough skills to compete on the open job market, or do not have the high school diploma needed to become eligible for the lowest of low-end paying jobs.

Terri says, “I think public housing is a very good thing because it helps out low-income families who need a place to live and have no other place to reside in.”

Like millions of others across the nation, Terri has been left hopeless and homeless in a brutal dog eat dog capitalist world that gives no mercy to those who have been tossed into the trash bins of society and are left to wither away along the path of starvation, misery and death until a lucky break occurs, such as a public housing unit opening up, that finally offers them some solace and salvation from the violent desperate streets in these harsh economic times.

Meanwhile, long time Oakland low-income renter Benjamin Fulcher is very concerned about the plans to dispose of more than 1,600 public housing units in Oakland. He said: “Getting rid of public housing is a bad thing. Where is everyone to go who needs public housing in the future?

“There is no replacement for public housing, and there never has been. These holdouts in the Housing Authority and their partners in the so-called nonprofit housing sector have been corrupted by eight years of the Bush regime and are shortsighted people who are profiting through their partnerships taking place to steal Oakland’s public housing away from the poor.”

James Vann, a cofounder of the Oakland Tenants Union, declares: “I think that what’s happening with the OHA is deplorable and that their policies are despicable. Public housing is the last option for the poor and is totally being abandoned by the federal government and local housing agencies all across the nation.”

The disposition plan for over 1,600 Oakland public housing units

Oakland has over 3,300 public housing units and the plan to privatize half of them through the disposition plan is meant to enrich others while stealing public housing units from Oakland’s poor.

Currently, the OHA contracts with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to provide public housing to low-income households in Oakland and is reimbursed by HUD at around $500 per unit on a monthly basis.

But under the new Section 8 model being promoted to end public housing, the OHA and their affiliates may be reimbursed by HUD for as much as $900 to $1,000 for the same rental units if the plan works out to their way of thinking. Unfortunately for the poor, this scheme results in the loss of Oakland’s desperately needed public housing units, and in the future public housing will be one less option for the homeless needing a place to call home. The disposal of over 1,600 public housing units owned and operated by the OHA signals the end of public housing as we know it.

A September 2008 press release from OHA consultant Jo Ann Driscoll states: “As part of the disposition plan, OHA will transfer ownership of the properties to a registered 501(c)(3) housing organization, that will be affiliated with the Housing Authority. The nonprofit affiliate will be responsible for the management and maintenance of all the units on sites scattered throughout the City of Oakland and work closely with the OHA under binding agreements. Any excess cash flow associated with these properties not needed for operation, maintenance or repair will be restricted to use by the OHA to develop new low income housing.”

In a nutshell, the disposition plan amounts to being one huge kickback scheme, intended to siphon away precious federal housing assistance dollars from the poor low-income tenants in the Section 8 voucher program and divert those precious resources to properties owned by the OHA and its affiliates.

As OHA Director Jon Gresley put it in a recent Oakland Tribune article: “The extra money will be used to finish rehabilitating the agency’s aging and in many cases, blighted and crime-plagued housing stock, which is estimated to cost $100 million. The money will also be used for management of the properties. We’re hoping they (public housing tenants with Section 8 vouchers) don’t move and stay where they are at, but there will be some who want to leave. There are people who have been living for 10 or 15 years in one community and wanted to leave but couldn’t get a voucher in the community where they wanted to move. These (vouchers) are portable so they can be used anywhere in the open private real estate market.”

The end result of this process will mean that there will be less money in the budget for existing low-income Section 8 voucher holders during a severe funding crisis that currently exists in the program all across the nation and will further result in the loss of public housing units for the poor in Oakland.

LHAP will facilitate the plan to dispose of Oakland’s public housing units

The OHA’s Board of Commissioners conducted a public hearing on the draft proposals for the Local Housing Assistance Program (LHAP) on Sept. 28.

The LHAP proposal is designed to allow the OHA to provide a seamless transition in the disposal of Oakland’s public housing units currently occupied by Oakland’s poor, despite the fact that during September a total of 93,654 pre-applications were submitted to the OHA by low-income households seeking subsidized housing.

Public housing is currently home to almost 3 million seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families with children. Approximately 1 million children live in public housing, and more than half (52 percent) of all public housing residents are elderly or people with disabilities.

Lynda Carson may be reached at