Purim window at Afikomen

Berkeley researcher discovers that weed killer creates gender-bending frogs. [USA Today]
Meritage at the Claremont Hotel is no ordinary hotel restaurant [Oakland Magazine]
World expert on toys has Berkeley warehouse full of fun things [SF Chronicle]
Berkeley Housing Authority downsizing city stock of public housing [IndyBay.org}

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. Hello Tizzielish,
    I’m a student journalist covering this story and read your comments on this blog post. You seem very knowledgeable of your surrounding neighborhood. Please email me at tenzins106@gmail.com if you are interested in helping me with this story. I attended the meeting last night between the BHA and the City COuncil. The public consisted of me alone.

  2. The Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA), by the way, is accepting applications for its Housing Voucher waitlist. The program has been known as Section 8 Housing Vouchers but it is now called Housing Vouchers. The last time the wait list was open was in 2006. Many thousands of applicatioins are expected. People have to submit an application — to be placed into a lottery to score a spot on the waitlist — online and they have to do it this week.

    At the end of the week, a computer program will select 1,500 applications to form the new list. Then BHA will slowly work through the waitlist. The list won’t be open again, certainly, for several years, even though many thousands of families need this kind of help in this rental market.

    Berkeleyside can help get the word out: the housing voucher list is open this week.

    There are not enough housing vouchers to meet the needs of the working poor. Fast food emplioyees, cashiers at Target, staff at car washes . . . they all have to pay prevailing market rents in this very expensive rental market. Berkeley needs people to do these low wage jobs but Berkeley does a grossly inadequate job of creating affordable housing for its workers. This is an unsustainable system.

    Did folks read the story that berkeleyside linked to about the BHA’s plan to sell Berkeley’s public housing to a private (probably non-profit, but, still, private market) developer? The BHA has budget deficits even though it spends hundreds of thousands a year on consultants. Gee, maybe if BHA stopped paying fat consultant fees. .. they could reduce their deficit without selling off public housing?

    And check this out: one of the BHA commissioners, Carole Norris, who is leading the effort to privatize this city’s public housing, works for a consulting partnership based in D.C. whose business relies heavily on government contracts. She gets paid as a consultant to help developers take over public housing!! She has a clear conflict of interest. She gets paid big consultant wages to urge BHA to privatize its public housing. . . and then private developers who turn to her consulting firms will have an inside track to bid on the theft. . . ur, I mean, sale of Berkeley’s public housing. Even if none of her actual clients end up buying our city’s public housing, she clearly works for the private market in her consulting work and it sure seems like a conflict of interest for her to sit on the BHA and promote turning public housing into private housing. It’s sorta like hiring a wolf to guard the henhouse, eh?

  3. The story about Berkeley Housing Authority moving to sell Berkeley’s very limited, but definitely decrepit, public housing stock to a private, non-profit developer is a very important story, I think. We are living with public policy shifts that occurred during the George W. Bush administration. Just like the federal judiciary — most notably the U.S. Supreme Court — is now filled with conservative time-bombs that will have great power over public policy for many years (federal judgeships are all lifetime appointments!), the landscape of the whole country is littered with public policy changes imposed by Bush. Even if Obama had the time, he does not seem to have the inclination to ferret out these time bombs and try to undo some of them.

    The sad truth is that public housing is being eliminated all across the country, replaced by, in theory, federal housing vouchers. Housing vouchers are a good program and they meet human need, never mind that there are not enough vouchers to come close to meeting the needs of the poor and the working poor. Shifting public housing subsidies into the private market through vouchers is similar to the move to shift public schools ilnto a charter system. Slowly, incrementally, public funds, then public works, are controlled by the private sector. This meets the philosophical goals of people who want to eliminate government by ‘starving the beast’ . . . but, unfortunately, the private sector does not meet the needs of the needy . . .unless someone is paying for it.

    I don’t understand why so many middle class Americans keep voting to reduce government when their middle class lives only came into being because of government programs.

    Public housing is a meaningfully different kind of low income housing than housing vouchers. For someone to qualify for a housing voucher — after winning a lottery and waiting years on a wait list — they have to show a regular income, good credit, pay security deposit, etc. But in public housing, penniless, jobless homeless people can rent those apartments.

    With a housing voucher — which is a great program that is underfunded but, still, a great program for the folks who win the voucher lotteries — and yes, folks, housing vouchers are distributed by lottery. Check out the website of Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA). This week, the Housing Voucher waitlist is open for the first time since 2006. Many, many thousands of people are expected to apply to get on a waiting list and then 1,500 will ‘win’ a spot on the list. And then those 1,500 will start waiting. Some of them will wait three or four years before winning an actual voucher. What becomes of the thousands who didn’t make the list? And how do the poor and the working poor survive in this rental market in the meantime?

    Well, one outlet for the poor and working poor is public housing. Public housing rents to anyone, with no minimum incomes. If a working poor person loses their job, they can stay in a public housing apartment because their rent is adjusted to 30% of their income. If their income is zero — and, yes, some people have zero income — then most public housing authorities these days charge a $50 minimum rent. I don’t know what BHA does. But I do know that people have to have a stable income to use a housing voucher. And I know that public housing meets a niche in the poverty housing market that housing vouchers do not serve.

    As I said, public housing is being eliminated all across the country. it is happening in Oakland. This is not just a Berkeley phenomenon, the result of slick housing consultants and politicians having sneaky meetings at the library. This is a deliberate, national public policy approach to eliminate public housing and privatize the low-income and affordable housing markets. These programs use public money . . . but they push it into private hands because it is part of the conservative agenda to eliminate government.

    I don’t claim to understand all the reasoning behind what has been happening to public housing . . . but public housing has been shifted into private hands for many years. It happens right out in the open, too, in the sense that public officials like BHA, Tom Bates, housing commissioners who are also private consultants, etc. . . but the conservative movement is alive and influential and the profound shift away from public housing towards private markets subsidized with publicly-funded housing vouchers is definitely related to the conservative goal of eliminating government and trusting all our social needs to the marketplace. I don’t understand public policy related to low- and affordable-housing anymore than I understand how the market place is going to magically take care of people who can’t participate in the marketplace. Most people living in public housing are not allowed, or are not able, to ‘participate’ in the private housing market.

    Public housing fills a niche. I worry, a lot, about what will become of the very lowest and most vulnerable amongst us when the resource of public housing has been starved out of existence. What will become of the people who turn to that resource? Will the market take care of them? My instincts tell me no.