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Marin City's Housing Teardown Could Banish Longtime Residents
By Karen Nakamura
Last month the CP looked at the looming housing crisis in public and disabled/senior housing in Marin County. As each sector is run under a different system, this article will look at only public housing and how it's faring locally and nationally. Next month we'll discuss the very different but as potentially devastating senior/disabled-housing situation.
At issue is the tear down/rebuild of the Marin City Golden Gate Village (GGV) public housing complex-the Frank Lloyd Wright/Aaron Green designed towers seen from Highway 101. Rumors (in two cases, activists verbally informed by officials) have been rampant that the Marin Housing Authority (MHA) will replace public housing at GGV with Workforce Housing, displacing all but 8 of the 292 low-income families. Besides the lucky few, most would be left to fend for themselves armed only with a Section 8 voucher that few private landlords are willing to accept. The rest of the units will go to people earning approximately $20,000 to $80,000 a year. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) which sets regulations for the program, calculates the qualifying income as 20-80% of the median income of an area. Marin's medium income is approximately $95,000 a year.
To protect low-income residents, there has been a set-in-stone HUD requirement that any demolition of public housing provide one-to-one replacement both temporary and permanent, for displaced tenants. For a waiver to be granted, a written plan must be submitted to and approved by HUD's Washington headquarters. There are approximately 1.2 million households in public housing units, managed by 3,300 local Housing Authorities (HAs). HUD provides project-based and individual Section 8 housing grants. Public housing complexes such as in Marin and New Orleans have a built-in dependence on these grants. Without them, they can't survive.
However, a pattern of workforce housing replacing low-income housing has popped up in Boston and in Atlanta where residents sued to get one-to-one replacement rights enforced. The Atlanta HA says after it razes the complexes, it hopes to work with private investors to develop the land and reserve some space for low-income residents. HUD regulations forbid this approach as seen below. As reported in Creative Loafing.com, of the approximately 5,000 families displaced in public-housing demolitions, only 332 live in the new mixed-income communities. "[The] razing of 12 more projects is predicted to reduce the number of public-housing units from a …high of 14,800 to an unprecedented low of 4,800."
"It's an agenda to gentrify the city," says Terence Courtney, who works with Atlanta Jobs with Justice. "The housing authority has done whatever it could to create a justification for mixed-income communities that aren't really mixed-income. They just keep a few token folks." One consequence has been unprecedented economic growth in the city's urban core.
In New Orleans, approximately 2000 people lived in St. Thomas public housing, which was demolished and replaced by River Garden apartments, a mixed-income development. Housing authorities replaced only 122 units. Recently the Lafitte complex, which occupied eight city blocks, was demolished. According to the New Orleans Picayune, this "marks a historic change in New Orleans' public housing landscape. When Katrina hit in 2005, more than 5,000 families lived in public housing. Today about one-third… about 1,800, live in such units." With these figures no wonder public housing residents are nervous.
Do these actions indicate that HUD is granting waivers of regulations for local Housing Authority (HA) on enforcement of the emphatically stated one-on-one replacement rules? See these regulations at (www. access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_05/24 CFR: 42.05). The new waivers effectively allow funding for workforce housing at the expense of lower income, seniors, disabled and minority communities, in other words, the usual sacrificial lambs.
The above regulations state: "(a) One-for-one replacement. HUD may not approve an application or furnish assistance under this part unless the PHA submitting the application for demolition or disposition also submits a plan for the provision of an additional decent, safe, sanitary, and affordable rental dwelling unit (at rents no higher than permitted under the Act) for each public housing dwelling unit to be demolished or disposed of under the application, except as provided in paragraph (j) of this section."
The concept of workforce housing is laudable, needed and rises from positive roots. The architectural plans are usually desirable and contain a diversification of income levels. The overall plans are the culmination of liberal minded people and governments trying to break the stranglehold of poverty by including those with less into neighborhood rehabilitation projects with equal access to the same benefits. No one disputes the benefits of these projects. In fact, the disenfranchised community has asked for this type of housing for decades. What they're disputing is the tendency to use public housing property and then discard the former residents by not providing realistic alternatives.
The Rev. Isaiah Wallace, assistant pastor at Little Zion Baptist Church in San Francisco, is one of two tenant commissioners serving on the MHA Board of Commissioners. The other five seats comprise the Board of Supervisors.
On April 15, Rev. Wallace walked out of a Marin Housing Commission meeting with a contingent of GGV and other housing residents terrified of eviction. He did this because foremost he's worried his constituency's needs aren't being addressed. But he's also worried about public perception and what he's experienced as a Commissioner.
"First, there are no secret agenda or meetings going on. In fact, from what I've seen, the Board has the best of intentions and is sincerely trying to help. But sometimes they don't understand what the residents are going through and how close to the edge they live. On the other side are those trying to stir up the fear factor. The best thing we can all do is what I think the Board is trying to do, bring all of the parties together from the beginning of the planning phrase. If we work together we can get this solved."
Long time Marin Co. Supervisor Hal Brown, and fellow Housing Authority Commissioner, agrees. Nothing is written down. There are no documents. There are ideas floating around and there's a need to do something about housing. Supervisor Brown would like to see all interested party at the table from day one. According to the Marin Independent Journal, Ed Griffin, the agency's new interim executive director, said improving communications between the Marin Housing Authority and tenants is one of his goals. He also wants to create an overall tenants' advisory council of residents from all of the authority's apartment complexes as is spelled out in the above regulations.
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