The Oakland Housing Authority, much like the Port, AC Transit, and East Bay MUD, doesn’t receive anywhere near the amount of media attention it deserves.
OHA operates 3,308 units of public housing within the City, administers 11,649 HUD-funded Section 8 vouchers, and provides housing assistance for 212 homeless persons through the Shelter Plus Care Program, contracted through Alameda County. Between these programs, and those provided by OHA’s subsidiary non-profit corporation California Affordable Housing Initiatives, which administers program-based vouchers for 536 properties, they have an annual operating budget of nearly half a billion dollars. To put that in perspective, OHA’s budget is roughly the same size as the City of Oakland’s entire General Purpose Fund. It’s a lot of money.
Oaklanders who live near one of OHA’s 254 small scattered sites of public housing are already well-acquainted with the problems many of these buildings create within their neighborhoods. Lack of on-site management, an inadequate police department, and sparse funds for maintenance and repair have resulted in a collection of properties so blighted that the City had to resort to suing the Housing Authority over the condition of their buildings.
You’re probably wondering right now who exactly is in charge all this? That would be the Oakland Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, a seven-member Board appointed by the Mayor. Five of the members serve four-year terms, and two members, who must be tenants in OHA public housing, serve two-year terms.
It is an incredibly important job. Which is why I, personally, was horrified last July to see the Mayor submit a Livermore high school student as his first nomination to the Housing Authority Board. I was moderately heartened at the meeting when Jane Brunner and Desley Brooks asked some pretty good questions about how that appointment was going to work exactly and were they sure the girl even lived in Oakland, none of which the representative from the Mayor’s office was able to answer. I was, of course, immediately disheartened when the Council voted 7-0-1 (Brunner abstained) to appoint her anyway.
The teenager never ended up serving after all, and the Mayor ended up appointing somebody else – somebody who actually had experience managing large budgets and who had experience working for a Housing Authority – to the position in March. “Great,” I thought. “The Mayor is finally taking this seriously.”
Boy, was I wrong. On Tuesday, the Council will consider the appointment of three new members (PDF) of the Board (replacing Boardmembers whose seats are eligible for renewal). One of them is fine – he would be filling one of the tenant representative seats and is already the member of OHA’s resident advisory board, so it seems safe to assume he has a clue about what they deal with. The other two, however…
One’s resume indicates she is an apprentice electrician who previously worked with troubled youth. While such activities are no doubt admirable, there is zero indication from this woman’s resume that she has any experience or expertise in the areas of housing, finance, managing large budgets, real estate, complex organizations, development, or anything else the OHA Board deals with. Nor has she ever worked in Oakland. The other is a student at Laney College, and the only management or supervisory experience on her resume is supervising a staff of 15 people. She has long list of volunteer work, but again, nothing that indicates any preparation whatsoever for a position with this level of responsibility.
I feel bad picking on these women – they both seem community minded and I’m sure they have the best of intentions. But we can’t select people to manage a half a billion dollar annual budget just because they’re nice. You need people who are have relevant experience that equips them to make good decisions. It seems particularly ridiculous, especially during a time when OHA is going through some very major changes (they are currently applying to HUD to dispose of all of their scattered site public housing, transfer ownership to an affiliated non-profit corporation, and convert the units to Section 8), to simply throw away the valuable knowledge gained by existing Commissioners during four years of service, and replace them with people who have zero relevant experience or qualifications.
If history is any guide, the Council will likely rubber stamp the Mayor’s appointments without comment or question tomorrow night, and Oakland residents can look forward to several more years of an Housing Authority that fails to adequately serve its own tenants or respect that taxpaying residents who have to live near their properties, and that operates with no real oversight. Good work, guys!