The Berkeley Housing Authority has opened up the Section 8 waiting list as part of the agency’s aggressive attempt to add 300 households to the housing-subsidy program by April.
In the past, the Section 8 waiting list was limited to a restricted number of applicants. Now, for the first time, the BHA has opened up the list to all qualified people who submit applications by Oct. 5.
Furthermore, the BHA has prioritized low-income tenants who already have housing and landlords who have rental units leased below market rates.
“Our primary focus is to locate people who are leasing units and are paying more than a third of their income on rent,” said Housing Department Director Stephen Barton, who oversees the BHA. “We also want to attract the attention of landlords who are renting to low-income tenants at below market rates because that’s a potential win, win situation.”
Barton said a shortage of housing has turned the BHA focus to low-income tenants, living in Berkeley who are already occupying housing, because the Section 8 vouchers are not of much use if there is no available housing to occupy.
Barton said landlords can benefit from the program by increasing their rents and avoiding Berkeley’s rent control laws. Units that are leased to Section 8 tenants are no longer subject to the rent control ordinance and can immediately begin collecting market, or close to market rents, if a current tenant qualifies for the Section 8 program.
HUD recently increased rental subsidies on all residential units. An example of the new rental ceiling is $1,105 for one-bedroom units and $1,380 for two-bedroom units.
“We’re very happy to see the Section 8 program is beginning to really get on the ball,” said Frank Davis, Jr., president of the Black Property Owners Association. “One thousand three hundred and eighty dollars is pretty close to what you can get on the open market, especially in west Berkeley.”
To get the word out, the BHA has spent $40,000 for mailings, advertising and installing informational phone lines, according to a Sept. 25 BHA report.
The BHA is anxious to issue as many Section 8 vouchers as possible by a HUD-imposed April deadline, Barton said.
More typical of a business than a government agency, the Housing Authority receives administrative funding according to how productive it is. That is to say, that the more households that are leased under the Section 8 program, the more funding the BHA receives. The under-leasing of Section 8 units has caused the agency large budget shortfalls in recent years – last year there was a shortfall of $255,000. BHA officials said it expects a similar loss this year.
HUD has authorized the BHA to subsidize 1,800 households, of which 1,600 can be subsidized by the BHA budget. But currently there are only 1,280 households under lease.
If the BHA cannot add 300 Section 8 units by the April deadline, HUD will likely cut funding for the program, which will mean cutbacks in BHA staff, or worse, the BHA Board may decide to dissolve the agency and turn over the subsidized housing program to another agency such as the Alameda County Housing Authority.
“I think this is like the last stand,” said Mayor Shirley Dean, who also sits on the BHA Board. “If we don’t get this thing worked out, it’s gone.”
For information on the section 8 program tenants can call 981-5406 and interested landlords can call 981-5407 . For a copy of the pre-application on the Web go to www.ci.berkeley.ca.us.