At a symposium Wednesday afternoon, community members and government officials convened to discuss how to meet the affordable housing needs of Berkeley’s senior community in light of limited resources.
The event, organized by a local chapter of the Gray Panthers, a national elder rights organization, featured input from senior members of the Berkeley community, City Councilmember Kriss Worthington and representatives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Bill Rogina and Robin Thompson, senior project managers for HUD in San Francisco, fielded questions from the community about the recent privatization of public housing units. Rogina said HUD was receiving encouragement from its headquarters in Washington to work with private firms to make public housing management more efficient.
Rogina and Thompson said at the meeting that funding for new affordable housing has largely dried up and that the last federal grants for building Section 202 affordable housing — intended for the low-income elderly — were given from 2010-11. He added that funding for Section 811 housing, supporting the disabled, has also dwindled on the national level as a result of a drop in appropriated federal funds.
“(Our goal is) preserving long-term affordability,” Rogina said, describing HUD’s response to the funding changes. “There is no funding for additional production.”
During the meeting, Worthington distributed a list of 23 reforms that he suggested could be used to tackle the issue of affordable housing in the future. These proposals included placing $1 million from the city’s surplus in the Berkeley Housing Trust Fund and increasing the capacity to build more floors — and more room for potential housing units — in buildings on Telegraph Avenue.
Community members at the meeting voiced concerns that the bar for income required to qualify for affordable housing was set too high. According to Thompson, the definition of affordable housing is 80 percent of the median income of that county.
“The most affordable housing, it’s not affordable,” Worthington said.
According to Patrick Kehoe, a tenant-based voucher holder, the privatization of affordable housing results from the lack of available funding for capital improvements to existing housing. Thompson added that in securing funding, public housing faces more hardships than does privately owned property.
Worthington at the meeting advised that all tenants, not just the elderly or disabled, should organize their voices within the community in order to “know their rights” and pursue more affordable housing options. Thompson agreed with Worthington, drawing on her experience managing hundreds of housing units to describe the need for tenants to keep her informed about their housing needs.
“Where people are not organized, they get screwed over,” Worthington said.
Contact Alok Narahari at [email protected].