by Lynda Carson
Berkeley – The Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) did not inform its public housing residents that they are protected by Berkeley’s good cause rent laws that state it is not a good cause to evict when a landlord – including the BHA – wants to sell an occupied residential rental property in Berkeley.
In addition, the BHA did not inform the public housing residents that the law also gives them the right to refuse to sign anything that materially changes the terms of their existing contracts in a way that would eliminate or void their eviction protections.
During late December 2009, the BHA filed a disposition plan with HUD to announce that it intends to terminate its public housing program and sell its occupied public housing units to a developer.
To fulfill a federal disposition requirement, the BHA officially informed Berkeley’s public housing residents of the plan in an Oct. 27, 2009, notice and information packet that included a public relations informational brochure titled “Berkeley Housing Authority Preservation Plan – Questions and Answers.” The BHA also mentioned that, as a result of the sale, all the residents will be displaced from their homes.
However, when doing so, the BHA failed to inform Berkeley’s public housing residents that it is illegal for landlords to evict their residents when selling occupied residential buildings in Berkeley and that this law also applies to the BHA.
The disposition plan, Application No. DDA0003874, filed by the BHA in late December 2009, is currently under review by Arona Wiley of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the BHA is expecting HUD to approve the plan to sell Berkeley’s public housing sometime in April 2010.
Furthermore, documentation reveals that the BHA tried and may have succeeded in compromising some attorneys with the East Bay Community Law Center and Bay Area Legal Aid when the BHA invited members of those local law firms, which represent low-income renters, to a private meeting to discuss the proposed sale of Berkeley’s public housing. Berkeley’s many public housing tenants were not at this meeting.
The BHA was well aware before the meeting that the residents may need assistance and legal representation from those firms if or when they choose to fight back against any attempts by the BHA to evict or relocate them to implement its plan to sell its 75 public housing units.
For legal purposes, most or all of Berkeley’s public housing residents should have been present at this private meeting between the BHA and the law firms. The tenants could have been immediately informed by the law firms that landlords, including the Berkeley Housing Authority, are not allowed to evict when selling residential properties in Berkeley.
When I asked Gracie Jones of the East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) on March 29 why the tenants were not informed of the law’s protection from eviction, she stated that no public housing residents were at their meeting with the BHA that day.
Records reveal that two informational meetings were held by the BHA on Nov. 3, 2009, at the South Berkeley Senior Center, where the public housing residents were informed of the BHA’s plan to sell its 75 public housing units and its plan to displace them from their long-time homes as a direct result.
During the meeting at 1:30 p.m. that day, 26 residents appeared; during the second meeting, only 18 public housing residents appeared. The minutes from those public meetings report that the tenants said they believe they are being kicked out as part of the city’s efforts to gentrify Berkeley, that they were victims of the previous City Council, that their rights are being violated and that they do not trust the Berkeley Housing Authority.
In a stunningly bizarre revelation, public documents also show that the BHA and its relocation – or displacement – consultant, Overland, Pacific and Cutler (OPC), also met privately with members of the legal services advocacy community on Nov. 3, 2009, a third BHA meeting on that date. In this meeting, staff from Bay Area Legal Services (Bay Legal), East Bay Community Law Center (EBCLC) and the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) joined the BHA and its consultants for a discussion about the BHA’s plan to sell Berkeley’s public housing.
When I asked Ms. Jones who else attended the private Nov. 3, 2009, BHA meeting, she stated that Lisa Grief of Bay Area Legal Services was there but that she could not recall who else was present.
Indeed, public records reveal that on Nov. 3, 2009, low-income renter legal representatives Lisa Grief (Bay Legal), Gracie Jones (EBCLC), Sharon Djernal (EBCLC) and Catherine Bishop (NHLP) were all at the BHA’s little private meeting, which none of Berkeley’s many public housing residents attended. Others at the BHA’s meeting included BHA consultants Eric Novak of Praxis Consulting and BHA displacement consultant Chad Wakefield of OPC. No one picked up the phone at Bay Area Legal Services when I repeatedly called to inquire further into the meeting.
Documents also reveal that the BHA intentionally used members of the legal services advocacy community and Berkeley’s public housing residents in its all out push to convince HUD to approve the plan to sell all of Berkeley’s public housing.
Records reveal that the BHA sent copies to HUD of all the sign-in sheets from the three Nov. 3, 2009, meetings. However, in another breach of trust by the BHA, it appears that those who signed in were not informed in advance that the sign-in sheets would be used to pressure HUD to approve the BHA sale and relocation plan.
During my discussion with Ms. Jones, she said she knows it is illegal for landlords, including BHA, to evict tenants in Berkeley when a property is sold and that if I hear of any public housing tenants facing eviction, I should tell them to call the East Bay Community Law Center immediately.
I also asked Ms. Jones when the EBCLC plans to serve notices to Berkeley’s public housing residents to let them know that it is illegal for landlords to evict in Berkeley when trying to sell their residential buildings and when they would be informed that they do not have to sign anything related to the sale if they do not want to.
Ms. Jones replied that she is not an attorney, that she does not know what the plan is for the EBCLC regarding the BHA’s public housing renters and that her supervisor will be out of town for at least two weeks.
As of the afternoon of March 29, 2010, according to BHA consultant OPC, the BHA has not yet received approval from HUD to sell its public housing and has not yet sent out an RFQ (request for qualifications) in an effort to see who is the best nonprofit developer that may be qualified or interested in buying Berkeley’s occupied public housing units.
Lynda Carson may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.