The U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Section 8 Housing Assistance Payments Program was established in 1974, providing project-based and tenant-based housing assistance to low-income persons who rent. When both tenant and landlord qualify under Section 8, tenant pays one third of her/his income for rent, with the balance subsidized. It has been one of the best possible uses of federal funds, because it countermands need for costly welfare-type expenditures associated with sheltering persons with small incomes who are willing, able, and eager to live independently. And yet when conservatives’ attempts to eliminate HUD failed, they were able to focus on the Section 8 program and its various components. Seniors currently receiving Section 8 rent subsidies in project-based buildings, for example, have been receiving annual notices of possible loss of their status.
Landlords prefer not to accept vouchered tenants and are not renewing their Section 8 contracts with HUD because they can get bigger rents and what they consider “desirable tenants” on the “open market,” where the demand exceeds the supply. Market-rate rents are highest in Bay Area California.
In Berkeley, it may also be possible for a low-income family to obtain a Section 8 voucher in a Berkeley Housing Authority lottery. Then, within a short period of time, they must also find a vacant apartment owned by a landlord who will accept both the subsidized rent voucher and a tenant who may or may not fit a model profile! In addition to managing these “tenant-based” Section 8 rentals, the Berkeley Housing Authority has the city’s public housing within its purview.
HUD requires that housing authorities involve residents in the planning process by means of a Resident Advisory Committee or board (RAB) consisting of public housing residents and Section 8 participants renting in tenant-based buildings. The RAB’s role is to make informed comments regarding proposed procedures. The Center for Community Change has declared that residents will have to be vigilant to make sure that this happens in a meaningful way, and cautions that, where there is a history of mistrust and hostility between residents and housing authority management, housing authorities may meet only the minimal requirements to involve residents or even less than what is required.
In October 1999 the Berkeley City Council authorized the Affordable Housing Advocacy Project, with the goals of providing coalition-building, tenant organizing, and other activities to help save Federal Section 8 and other affordable housing programs. An AHAP goal is to join with other active tenant organizations in the Bay Area, state and nation to pursue these goals. (For more information about the AHAP, contact Wanda Remmers at Housing Rights, Inc., 510-548-8776, 1-800-261-2298.)
An important element in AHAP’s mission is involvement in and influence upon the federally-required Public Housing Authority Plan that the Berkeley Housing Authority is presently developing. During the month of May, AHAP is sponsoring a series of Town Hall Meetings throughout Berkeley to discuss the Berkeley Housing Authority – how it operates now, how Berkeley tenants can help to improve it, and how they can impact its planning process. The Town Hall meetings are being held from 6 to 8 p.m. on May 17 (North Berkeley Senior Center), May 24 (South Berkeley Senior Center), and May 31 (West Berkeley Senior Center). Anyone who lives in Berkeley Housing Authority-managed public housing or who has a Section 8 voucher or certificate, or who is a tenant-based Section 8 renter is urged to attend. This is your opportunity to influence your housing situation. Don’t agonize – organize!
Helen Rippier Wheeler is a member of the Berkeley Housing Authority, the Affordable Housing Advocacy Project steering committee, and the Alameda County