City commissions hear citizen concerns about low-income housing

Karin Goh/Staff

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Four city commissions convened Thursday night to listen to community concerns over the state of the city’s low-income housing.

The Homeless Commission; Housing Advisory Commission; Children, Youth and Recreation Commission; and Human Welfare and Community Action Commission addressed ways in which the city has implemented federal funds for affordable housing and listened to Berkeley residents’ concerns.

According to Kristen Lee, city community services specialist, the city received about $3 million from the federal government this year to fund affordable housing preservation, single-family housing rehabilitation and other social services.

Specifically, the city made health and safety repairs to more than 134 homes, renovated eight public facilities, assisted 80 homeless people in 55 households and prevented nine individuals in five households from becoming homeless.

Despite these accomplishments, many Berkeley citizens raised their concerns of the state of low-income housing. The respective commissions will be discussing the hearing at their next meetings.

“The oxygen for revitalization is resources,” said Jocelyn Foreman, a coordinator for the Office of Family Engagement and Equity. “We have to resource these kids, resource these families, like setting up hubs and zones around the city where families can be served in a more targeted way.”

Many also asked the city to continue funding welfare programs, such as the Lifelong Medical Care Acupuncture Clinic, a substance-abuse treatment clinic that primarily serves the homeless population.

“I got medical help, dental help, everything I ever needed,” said Gregory Garrett, a Berkeley citizen who was a patient at the clinic. “I don’t want to see programs like this get stopped.”

Hope McDonnell, executive director of United for Health, explained that since funding cuts in 2010, the clinic has had to reduce its services from five days a week to three and has discontinued detox beds, where drug users wanting to quit can clear their system of these substances.

The clinic also provided housing vouchers, which cover a portion of rent for low-income households earning less than 30 percent of the area’s median income. But after the clinic’s funding decreased by about 35 percent, McDonnell said it now refers clients to other agencies for housing.

She recalled a patient she helped before the funding cuts who had spent 25 years on the street, lost custody of her four kids and suffered severe trouble with substance abuse and pain conditions. The patient received subsidized housing, counseling and acupuncture.

“She came in and turned her life around,” McDonnell said, citing an example of what the clinic can do with enough funding.

Residents of Redwood Gardens, a housing complex for low-income senior citizens and disabled individuals, raised concerns to the commissions that they weren’t consulted about recent renovations.

Alejandro Soto-Vigil, Berkeley Rent Board commissioner and Housing Advisory Commission member, felt that removing impediments to affordable housing would require a solution “for us, and by us.” Specifically, Soto-Vigil suggested putting money into a housing trust fund by way of taxing “mega-landlords.”

“This isn’t a top down solution,” he said. “We need to work together to get that passed and funded to the right places.”

Bo Kovitz covers city news. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @beau_etc.