Can I be on the Housing Authority Board, too?

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!

50 thoughts on “Can I be on the Housing Authority Board, too?

  1. dan schulman

    I don’t understand on the last page of the second PDF nominating the three people, there is a stamp that says ORA/Council dated Oct 7, 2008 which is tomorrow. It also seems to indicate that the entire council already voted yea on this resolution.

    Maybe I am clueless, but it seems already rubber-stamped for a future date.

  2. Carlos Plazola

    Though I supported Ignacio for Mayor, when Ron Dellums won the mayoral election, I held out hope, because I love Oakland, that Mayor Dellums would actually be an effective manager of our city. Inside, I was fearful that he would rule form the heart, instead of the head; that is, that he would make decisions that felt good theoretically, but that make no sense from a management perspective.

    The Oakland Housing Authority Board of Commissioners, like the Port Commissioners, are actually responsible for helping direct the priorities of the organization they oversee, and for ensuring that the executive body is accountable to the broader community and that they are following through at implementing the priorities.

    In 2005, a group of concerned residents, under the banner of OHAG (Oakland Housing Action Group) , joined together to push for reforms in the way the OHA was managing their scattered sites–to prevent the externalization of costs (public nuisance activity) associated with scattered sites to adjacent neighbors.

    All rental properties need management, but the OHA, over the years, had allowed many of their scattered sites to become problematic to adjacent neighbors due to insufficient management. A leader of this group was appointed, by then-Mayor Jerry Brown, to the OHA commission this same year and began working with other members of the commission to push for reforms.

    This same year, Councilmembers De La Fuente and Kernighan increased their call for accountability and met with the Director of the OHA many times and demanded to see reforms and accountability in ensuring peaceful neighbors did not have to be traumatized by the nuisance activity at OHA sites such as drug dealing, loud music, intimidating behavior, etc.

    John Russo threatened with a law suit, and a compliance plan was entered into by the OHA to implement significant reforms that would lead to more peaceful neighborhoods.

    All of this, together, created the momentum necessary to create systemic change. It was, simply, good management of a difficult situation. The forces in the city joined together to address a problem that had been worsening for at least 3 decades. Decisions were made, including appointments, with the intention of fixing problems. Some of Oakland’s most systemic, chronic problems have started to get fixed as a result.

    Appointments can be made to provide young people with experiences, or to bring “a new perspective” or to “balance a commission”…

    …or appointments can be made to help solve our city’s problems by appointing people with expertise and experience that strengthens that organization’s ability to deliver the goods to the broader Oakland community.

  3. oaklanderbybirth

    V,

    Can you share your resume and relevant experience with the readers of this blog. Inquiring minds want to know, are you qualified to run a buget of over HALF A BILLION Dollars?

  4. mark

    I love the statement

    “Appointments can be made to provide young people with experiences, or to bring “a new perspective” or to “balance a commission””

    How about making appointments based on the ability to bring safe housing to the people in need of Oakland? The Oakland city council still does not get it

    No business would have a 17 year old in management or on the board of directors to “get experience”.

  5. len raphael

    dan, the oha exc director, Jon Gresley, first thing monday morn responded to my sunday evening request for a copy of the resumes. his understanding was that the post dating of the nomination letter is standard procedure for the city and doesn’t imply that the nominations have been approved by the council. grisley came across as smart and responsive in our brief phone discussion about figuring out ways with neighbors to prevent oha project on 49th/lawton (scene of august drive by) from deterioriating in the normal pattern of oha projects after major rehabs. more on that in a few weeks.

    so yes, there is still time to contact council members before tonight, tuesday oct 7 2008, meeting. and yes, two of the candidates seem woefully underqualified.

    -len

  6. Max Allstadt

    It’s a relatively short agenda at the council tonight. This means that if we want to show up and speak on these nominations and ask the council to do a little more vetting, we won’t be up all night.

  7. Tanya Pitts

    I came across this blog as I am preparing for the city council meeting tonight. I am one of those “woefully underqualified” candidates that you are talking about. I find your comments interesting and think it is great you are engaged with this process. I also think the Oakland housing authority commission is extremely important to making our city into a thriving community that serves the needs of all its diverse residents. And if I get appointed I plan to work hard and do what it takes to make decisions that are going to bring safe housing to the people in need in oakland.

  8. dto510

    Tanya, thanks for engaging here. Nobody doubts that you will work hard and that you want to improve Oakland’s housing situation. What V and the commenters are saying is that the Housing Authority is a complex organization with a budget of almost half a billion dollars and thousands of housing units under its care, and that appointees to its board should have the specialized, technical knowledge necessary to manage the authority.

  9. Tanya Pitts

    I understand that and I know that I will have a big learning curve, but I am not so sure that the folks with the specialized knowledge always make the best decisions either as evidenced by the financial crisis we are in as a nation. I think your concerns have merit and have definitely spent time thinking through the same things that are being critiqued in this blog. I have decided to try for the position, though because I do think I can do a good job. Also to correct a previous statement I have worked and lived in oakland for many years now my resume gives the address of my union hall not the sites I have worked on. l

  10. len raphael

    TP, for sure there’s expertise and there’s judgement. ideally you get both in an expert. i just reread your resume and realize that the electrician apprentice part was needed for a resume, you should be considered based on your social services/education related experience.

    suspect you have a much better idea of how to work with residents of the oha units than most people on this site, and very possibly most of the current oha board members. but then, you might just be interested in this as a springboard into politics. which is ok if you put a lot of work into the unpaid position.

    but heck, the ousd had only people like that on their board when the ousd went down in bankruptcy. which is to say, good intentions and knowing how to say train residents to be better single moms, wb very useful, but only if you can make sure oha has the bucks to do that.

    oha financing that’s coming up with the spinoff of the scattered small units is not simple. not as complex as credit default swaps, but not Financ. IA.

    questions:

    1. How much time are you planning to devote?

    2. do you have any specific ideas, including cost to implement, to get residents to take more responsibility for the maintenance of their housing, including safety and reduction of drug dealing?

    3. my impression is that many of the residents are decent people with the problem coming from unsupervised kids and common law/boy friends.

    What do you see as the most important thing you could try to achieve by being on the board?

    4. re. the proposed spinoff of the smaller units. would you oppose trying to work out a way for current residents to purchase them? eg. shared equity type program?

    (i feel like i’m interviewing sarah palin. who despite what most of my friends and the entire bay area think, is quite intelligent and a quick study, but vastly ignorant. at least you won’t be a heartbeat away from being prez. :)

    -len raphael
    temescal

  11. Max Allstadt

    I second DTO’s thanks to you for engaging here. I don’t know if I’d have the courage in the same situation. Making the council and the public more aware of all of your experience would be a good way to proceed.

    I hope you and your fellow nominees come tonight, sign up for speaker cards, have someone cede you each an extra minute, and step to the podium before other speakers on this issue. While we have no public confirmation interview process in Oakland, doing as I suggest would be at least an approximation. I commend you again for chiming in here, and for your service.

  12. Carlos Plazola

    Tanya, kudos to you for engaging with everyone here. For me, that says a lot about you.

    Should your appointment move forward successfully this evening, I would be very willing to help facilitate your interaction with key people who would accelerate your learning curve, particularly as it relates to OHA’s continued improvement to reduce the impacts on neighbors from nuisance activities that occur at the sites.

    Of note, there are many issues that the OHA deals with, and the commissioners must help manage (good, quality housing, providing services to tenants, etc) but the one where the OHA has failed most miserably on is ensuring that the scattered sites aren’t nuisances to the neighborhoods they’re in.

    Carlos Plazola cplazola@hotmail.com

  13. len raphael

    TP, one more specific question

    the 49th and Lawton 21 unit site was entirely rehabbed several years ago. since that time it has slowly but surely deteriorated physically and socially. i would say the drive by shooting in august, followed by the two women running out crying for their men who had been targeted and shot by the hit guys, was a new low not seen since the killing of the innocent young woman in her apt. there about 12 years ago.

    there are scattered reports of petty drug dealing by teenagers from the units. common to hear of unsupervised younger kids roaming the nearby streets.

    relations between residents and neighbors are worsening with complaints of noise, garbage thrown over the fences into neigboring yards.

    question: What would you try to improve any of the above if you found that they were happing?

    -len

  14. dto510

    It’s like the oldest free email! Do they still delete all your messages if you don’t log in enough? Join the Gmail train.

    Also, it’s not a good idea to write your email directly on the web. Spambots will find it. The convention is to express an email address like dto at thedto dot com.

  15. oaklanderbybirth

    Really V wants to be in the HOA board.

    What experience does she possess in order to be considered to this important post.

    Now, she writes a blog? Her experience with tenants maybe limited to the fact that she rents an apartment [redacted - V. Smoothe]

    Apart from that, maybe she can post her own resume so we can take it apart. In the same like manner she took apart Tanya resume.

    Tanya – be careful with wolfs bearing gifts.

    Good luck on your appointment.

  16. ConcernedOakFF

    Out of curiosity, are appointments for these boards advertised for the public to apply for? Or is this a purely political appointment, i.e. Ya gotta know someone…

    If this IS how it is, is there any way to change this in order to take this type of politics OUT of the City of Oakland….

  17. Kathleen

    It is refreshing to hear the debate about who sits on the OHA Board. The concern of Tanya is impressive however, the position should require concern, experience and education. All of us have a learning curve in new positions, but most of us have experience and education to back us up and did not walk into positions that affect the lives of many. I am not interested in providing Tanya with on the job training at our expense.

    The Housing Authority makes decisions everyday that impact the quality of life of Oakland residents. The issues of crime and violence are enormous and public housing developments play a role in the crime. Tanya is not yet qualified to sit at the table. I would suggest that she gain experience at a level that does not affect the quality of life for Oaklanders.

    It would be very interesting to know who makes the recommendation for Board appointments.

    The housing authority purchases property and partners with developers to create housing developments. These developments are building blocks in our city and provide substantial $$$$ for developers.

    Really, where are qualified people to watch the significant actions of OHA?

  18. Max Allstadt

    Tanya, unfortunately, did not fill out a speaker card last night.

    The council really should do public Q&A for appointees, perhaps at committee meetings.

  19. Kathleen

    Maybe someone from the Mayor’s Office will enlighten us on the process. Having a Board appointment looks good on resumes and comes with many perks. Travel, speaking opportunities, and the chance to rub elbows with movers and shakers.

    It can also open otherwise closed doors. Commissioners make decisions on multi-million dollar projects, often prepared and/orpresented by engineers, public works, lawyers, accountants etc…people who have more than OJT.

    Tanya, watch the slight of hand carefully!

  20. Tanya Pitts

    Hey folks, I just got to check the blog. unfortunately I had a class right before the city council meeting and did not get to see the posts requesting for me to fill out a speakers card. I was told that normally appointees do not speak at the meeting and have other speak on their behalf. i f I had known that you wanted me to speak I would have. since that opportunity has past I am willing to talk to people now.
    my e-mail address is pirate@riseup.net.

    As to Len’s questions

    1. I am planning to devote at least 20 hrs a month to the OHA commission. although in the beginning, while there is still a big learning curve I am planning on devoting a bigger chunk of time, up to 40 hrs a month so I can get up to speed on what is going on.

    2. This is a huge question and at its basis is changing the culture of the sites. I dont think the majority of folks living in the scattered sites want to have drive by shootings, or drug dealing. Changing this culture happens slowly though and is a lot bigger than the OHA. In my opinion the push for change has to come from the residents and not be seen as something being imposed on them from above to be effective, So my starting place would be to ask the residents what they see as effective ways to combat those elements in their community by having OHA staff host a public safety meeting where residents get to voice their concerns, and hear the concerns of the larger neighborhood, then hear examples of how other communities have dealt effectively with the same issues. From this point the residents could come up with a plan with measurable goals and commitments that OHA staff could hold them to.

    As for maintainence of the sites see number 4.

    3. I think this question is how do I see myself being useful. One of my main goals is to facilitate communication between the different players in this agency and city as well as the people impacted by its decisions, both the residents and the neighbors. given the history of the OHA and a lot of the struggle surrounding public housing in oakland I think it will be really beneficial to have somebody who is willing to engage all the different parties to make sure their concerns are present at the table so the organization can be dynamic and meet the needs of the city.

    I also intend to try to forge a bridge with the OHA staff so that the board has insight into what is going on behind the packets that we are presented with and what is the opposition to decisions that the board is making and if the boards decisions are being carried out. I believe getting staff support is crucial for having a board that is effective in making change or doing anything.

    4 As for your 4th question and to deal with the question of maintainence. I live in a non-profit, non-equity housing corp. with 9 other people. We are responsible for all the finances and maintainence of our home, yet we do not own any shares and will not get any money out if we decide to leave. It is an interesting situation to look at who takes responsibility and how. I think when it comes to doing maintainence themselves people are often overwhelmed and feel like they dont have the skills, so one thing that might be helpful is having OHA hosted home maintainence workshops with residents, especially if they are skills residents want. I also think that a significant number of OHA residents are not able bodied and unable to do the maintainence on their own in which case OHA needs to step up to the plate and make the units solid good living environments. I have other ideas about getting volunteers from trade unions do some of the work, but that needs to be negotiated with OHA staff so it is not seen as taking someones work.

    As for supporting shared equity ownership for the tenants, i do and I believe ownership comes with a bigger sense of responsibility for the residents.

    I see a lot of discussion here about how position on commissions are advertised and I am unsure how it works myself but I will contact the mayors office and ask. I do know that another position on OHA commission is going to open in the near future and am willing to let whoever would like to apply know about it as soon as I know.

  21. scatteredsiteneighbor

    I’m shocked. Ms. Pitts, you do seem very nice, and based on your comments yesterday and my respect for Mayor Dellums’ judgment (sorry, V), I was willing to give you the benefit of the doubt. But now I read these answers! Why did you apply for this position when don’t seem to know anything about what the OHA Board does, or the changes the agency is going through right now. The response to the scattered site question suggests you haven’t even read the disposition FAQ, let alone the application. I’ve spent the last dozen years fighting OHA and what their property does to my block. Under the current board, things have finally started to get better. Now I feel we’re just going back to square one all over agian. V, can this decision be appealed?

  22. Tanya Pitts

    how about we talk directly about your concerns etc. wanna set up a meeting sometime in the next few weeks?

  23. len raphael

    TP, the process by which the position was publicized and nominations made was typical flawed back room oakland politics.

    yes, in a more perfectly governed city the board would have one tennant representative, one neighborhood activist, and the rest civic minded rental management pros or at least saavy financial types who actually have the time to do what they could do for big bucks for a for profit business.

    but if you ask lots of dumb questions of staff, and ask them and people like V how to get up to speed on the issues, then i’d say oakland was hecka lucky to get someone who at least promises to make oha listen and act on respecting both residents and neighbors. if you suceed at that last part, it wb a vast improvement and would minimize the law suits against oha that neighbors would be forced to file otherwise.

    good luck to all of us and to you, and thank you for volunteering.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  24. Robert

    Is it only me, or does the half billion dollars for a total of 15,705 units of housing seem rather high? (3,308 units of public housing, 11,649 HUD-funded Section 8, 212 homeless persons, 536 California Affordable Housing Initiatives vouchers)

    That works out to be over $2600/month/unit. All I can say is that those must be some pretty nice housing units.

  25. Max Allstadt

    Right on Len,

    Although I don’t know enough about the technicalities to understand scatteredsiteneighbor’s concerns here, I think Tanya has clearly proven herself to some degree just through her engagement here. She’s obviously giving all of this plenty of thought, and she’s clearly motivated to learn on the job. I find myself agreeing with Jane Brunmer’s comments from last night.

  26. len raphael

    robert, a neighbor and i were just discussing the impressive construction job near completion on total rebuild of a 4 plex OHA unit near 45th just east of Bway. Some beautiful and expensive concrete work, etc. I assume this is one of the smaller units that will be spun off to a partnership consisting of a nonprofit plus investors for section 8 housing.

    sounds wasteful just describing it. gosh knows what the professional fees wb just to structure those deals.

    -len

  27. Kathleen

    Tanya, since you recently completed the appointment process, why don’t you enlighten us on how it works? Where is the position posted, where did you apply, what are the qualifications, are there residency requirements, educational or experience requirements, who did you submit the app to?

    Regarding scattered sites, OHA works tirelessly to manage these unmanageable sites. Scattered sites are financially unsustainable. No one can be at these sites 24 hours a day, which would be necessary to deal with the vast issues of public housing. Sometimes people want to hold on to something even if it doesn’t work.

    Section 8 Vouchers, if given, will give residents the opportunity to live wherever they choose. The residents also need to step up to the plate and pick up garbage they drop, watch the actions of their guests and children, keep the noise at a respectful level! This is not a matter of physical challenges. Much of this is just courteous behavior – It’s not as if the housing authorities don’t provide maintenance…they do.

    The neighbors have a right to expect quiet enjoyment of their property. What are their lives like while this culture change evolves? It is nice that your co-op could impose participant maintenance, but Housing is a federally funded program and cannot put the same conditions on residents.

    Regarding the resident input, this is not a new concept. The Resident Advisory Board was created for just this purpose many, many years ago. The resident who sits on the Board is another method to obtain input from residents. Nationally and locally, resident input has been sought.

    OHA staff will offer some insight, but this is their livelihood and who wants to risk educating yet another commissioner about “what’s going on” when it may impact employment.

    Many commissioners use this tactic..it too is not new.

  28. Marilyn Clark

    While I applaud Tanya’s engagement and interest in this volunteer job, I’m really not sure you, Tanya, really understand the magnitude of the job you’re undertaking. In the real world, it is not really fair to hand people responsibilities for which they aren’t currently qualified, in some sense it sets them up for being overwhelmed and, thus, for failure. It does sound like you have a strong motivation, and that can carry you pretty far, but understand that if the Commission begins to fail again, so does OHA itself, and so does the City of Oakland. The OHA operation is too big and has too great an impact on the entire City to, in our minds, be allowed even a little slippage from where it has finally gotten, and the Commission is absolutely key to whether their huge financial and strategic policy decisions are on track..

    An example — the scattered site decision was made in the 1960′s (or maybe even earlier), and no one back then apparently even thought about the implications of that decision, which has burdened the City, the facility residents, the neighboring communities, and even OHA itself, for literally decades. It is STILL a thorn in everyone’s side because those sites are unmanageable unless considerably more money is made consistently available to provide multiple onsite managers, one for each site, no matter how large or small the sites are.. OHA cannot afford that money, so that decision was not only miserably inadequate, it was off-the-charts stupid.. To be good decisions, OHA Commission decisions have to be made by people who have the proper kind of education, savvy and experience with real estate development and property management and huge budgetary issues — it isn’t good enough to have good intentions, no matter how “smart” those intentions may be.

    Ideally, maybe, there could be a specific set of required minimum qualifications for appointment of non-tenant commissioners, and any appointees without those minimum qualifications could go into an “apprentice program” perhaps, be a part of Commission workings and discussions but not have a vote until they can meet those qualifications. Some such “apprentice appointees” would be overwhelmed, and some would rise to it. But it is much more fair to them, and to everyone else involved particularly existing Commission members, to give those appointees an opportunity to come up to speed, if they choose to stay with it, before they are plunged into something they are inadequately prepared for.

    In short, Tanya, it is SO important to those of us who have lived with poor Commission and OHA decisions in the past that we will not readily sit still for more of the same. You sound like a good, well-meaning, person, but your feet will be to the fire. This is crucial to the City of Oakland, itself, if it is to succeed in, for example, bringing new businesses in with desperately needed new tax revenue to help alleviate a deficit that is causing department layoffs, and etc. No one, including you, would welcome being in a City that was consistently on the downhill because of poor management and poor major decisions. This is a critically important Commission with a very small window for error at this point. Take heed.

  29. Carlos Plazola

    Marilyn,

    Extremely well said. You’ve articulated why so many people are taking such an interest in this mayor’s appointment decisions (and other decisions)…there is such a small window for error.

  30. Tony Koo

    Tanya, just give it all you can. Try not to focus on “what if I screw up”. Just give it all you’ve got. You can’t do any more than that anyway…and if it’s not enough…well, at least you can say that it’s not YOUR fault. You already did all that you could possibly do.

    Once you’ve gone as far as you can, then stop. You’re done.

  31. Tanya Pitts

    I wanna thank everyone who has responded to this post. I certainly have learned a lot and I am wondering if anyone has suggestions of neighborhood organizations that are currently working on this issue that I can contact to get their perspective. please let me know. thanks,
    Tanya

  32. Carlos Plazola

    Tanya, we’ll talk more in person soon and I’ll give you contacts, but in general, I think it’s important you contact the council offices that represent flatland areas (2,3, 4, 5, 6, and 7) and ask them which NCPC meetings you should go to in their districts that have problematic scattered sites as priorities. I’m sure you’ll get an earful and a lot of ideas on how to resolve the problems.

    It doesn’t seem like I need to say this to you, but going in with an open mind, and a recognition that attendees are there because they’re trying to improve their community, is important.

    Best of luck

  33. Awake in Oakland

    Tanya, maybe you should get contact referrals from the office that submitted your name for the appointment to the Board of Commissioners. Otherwise, it may look like you are being directed.

    I’m sure they will have lists of active organizations.

    Good Luck

  34. Awake in Oakland

    Carlos, everyone has opinions. Like the opinion that you used your position as De La Fuente’s aid to construct lucrative developments for yourself . I think taking advice from you is bad too!

    Tanya, here goes the game playing.

  35. Greg Hartwig

    I am very pleased to see this level of interest in OHA. I wish more people would take an active interest as OHA is involved with 1 out of every 6 rental units in Oakland. It is easy to see that an operation of that size has a very important effect on the city. I am a commissioner. A few years ago, there were large numbers of community complaints about OHA properties and problems with aggressive tenants. I was asked to consider joining the board because city leadership wanted someone they considered to be a community leader to help encourage OHA to be more accountable to community and city concerns. The board and OHA have worked hard together in an effort to make that happen. We have had good teamwork, which, I feel, has produced some very positive results.

    I wanted to try to clarify a couple of questions that have been raised. I want the public to be as educated as possible about OHA and have been encouraging OHA to engage in more public outreach and education.

    Someone pointed out that $500M is a lot of money for about 14k units of housing. That is an accurate observation. $2,600 / mo would be quite a subsidy. The $500M is consolidated income and includes $300M from operations outside of Oakland. Oakland operations are about $200M (public housing / section 8, etc). So, if you re-calculate the math you will get a more reasonable number.

    I was pleased to hear that someone thought one of OHA’s rehabbed sites looked “too expensive.” Ugly structure and poor maintenance were one of the common community complaints about OHA. The truth is, when a site needs a complete overhaul due to structural problems, the cost to improve architectural features to make it beautiful is generally not that significant. The tenants and the city both deserve the best looking buildings we can deliver.

    Property management has become a top priority and OHA has been working to achieve a leadership position. That encompasses maintenance, landscape, upkeep and addressing any tenant issues. Good looking, well managed properties improve neighborhoods and provide tenants with the kind of quality living environment they deserve. OHA progress in this area has been noticed by a lot of people. We are still trying to improve.

    There has been a bit of confusion over what has been happening with the scattered sites. They are not being sold or otherwise disposed of. OHA owns the properties now and will continue to own them until replacement units are built. All actions with the disposition of scattered sites are dedicated to preserving public housing in Oakland. The under-funding of public housing is enormous and shameful. Nothing can withstand that level of under-funding and survive for the long term. So, OHA is taking a series of necessary actions to shift the scattered site funding stream to the more reliable section 8 source in lieu of the public housing source.

    Over the long term, we would like to eliminate the scattered sites in favor new, mixed used housing complexes, like Mandela, that will be much easier and less expensive to maintain and manage. Do not expect this to happen any time soon as this involves a lot of properties and requires a lot new development.

    Finally, a very important question was asked about whether the board has powers beyond advice. The OHA board is NOT an advisory board. We are a decision making / policy board. As such, all material financial decisions, real estate decisions and most other business decisions require board approval. The board votes to approve or not initiatives of OHA and the board can set initiatives. The board actually has more operational executive responsibility than most corporate boards and similar power. For example, the board can hire or fire the executive director and is responsible for his or her performance reviews. Anyone interested in detailed information on board responsibility can consult the by-laws. An agenda is published for every public meeting so you can also see the actual issues we vote on. All should be available through the OHA web site.

    I have been on the board about 2 years and feel I am finally starting to know enough to be effective. It is not a simple business. I hope I have been able to help clarify a few things, and I hope that public interest in OHA increases.

    Greg Hartwig

  36. Carlos Plazola

    Greg,

    Thanks for this post. It is very elucidating.

    And thanks for you leadership on the OHA board. The past three years have been some of the best in recent times for OHA, in terms of innovating and implementing new approaches and ideas. Kudos to the commissioners, Mr. Gresley,and the hard-working employees at OHA.

    I’m hopeful you, and the other commissioners and general OHA leadership, will be able to bring the new appointees up to speed quickly–for the good of Oakland.

    Carlos

  37. len raphael

    greg, appreciate hearing from you in this forum.

    i don’t know whether to laugh or cry after reading your description of board powers. most people i knew had the impression that it was advisory.

    so basically the oha board members probably control at least as much discretionary expenditures as city council members do, considering all the contract mandated expenditures they face.

    is there a formal training procedure for new board members? maybe one developed by the feds as a template?

    who evaluates the performance of board members? is there a specific evaluator out of the mayor’s office?

    and thank you for serving.

    -len raphael
    temescal

  38. Marilyn Clark

    Greg’s post is so excellent I think it should be read by every Council member, and certainly by this Mayor, who apparently does not know what this Commission is all about, or he would be more careful about his appointments.

  39. Greg Hartwig

    Len, you have raised an interesting and important question regarding how the fiduciary responsibility of the OHA board compares to that of the City of Oakland or other public sector entities. I really don’t know the answer. As far as I know, no one has done that comparison. To be honest, I have never thought about it. As I was quite comfortable working with these kinds of budgets from my previous experience working for a large company, it never occurred to me to inquire along those lines.

    However you cut it, the fiduciary responsibility is substantial and can go far beyond the OHA budget. For all development projects such as Mandela and Lions Creek we bring in a number of partners along with a rather complex financing structure consisting of private tax credit equity and various types of debt and other financial interest. That means, with such developments substantial funds are brought into the project from outside OHA.

    The decisions we made at the last board meeting provide a window into the type and magnitude of financial decisions the board makes. OHA, for the first time ever, has taken on full responsibility as property developer for the $77M Tassafaronga project. At our last meeting, the board was asked to approve $30M of tax exempt bond funding, a direct investment of $17M and project guarantees to clear the way for 4% tax credit investments of $20M+. So, you can immediately see that in one meeting we made about $70M of financial commitments with most of it leveraged from other sources, but, for which, OHA is on the hook. Because of that, some effort would need to be made to determine just how large a fiduciary responsibility the board actually has.

    Your question is a good one because the public should be aware of what our various boards and commissions are actually doing and how much risk and complexity they are responsible for managing. For OHA, complexity is certainly another issue. I still don’t understand these development projects as well as I feel I should. Anyone who thinks this is simple need only look around at the number of housing authorities that are in receivership or in otherwise terrible difficulty. I had no idea how important and challenging this board position was going to be when I was appointed. I think we need to do a much better job of educating the public. This interchange is making this shortcoming very apparent, and it is also helping me understand what kind of information the public might want.

    If anyone is aware of other sites with OHA dialogue, please let me know.

    Greg Hartwig

  40. Dan Schulman

    I am found this discussion enlightening. Previously, I knew simple things like Oakland had public housing and there was something called the OHA that had something to do with it. However, I had no idea of the scale of public housing in Oakland.

    Statistics like an approximately $500,0000,000 budget and 1 out of 6 rental units in Oakland subsidized by OHA are mind-boggling. Even more amazing is this stat I found in a PDF (http://www.oakha.org/OhaNews/OHAFactSheet.pdf) on the OHA website “9.5% of Oakland Families, Elderly and Disabled live in housing subsidized by OHA.” That’s almost 1 out of 10 or 37,000 residents living in subsidized housing!

    That seems to be a tremendous amount to me. Instead of a board and council members who only can look to expand public housing even further, maybe we need people who can figure out ways to give subsidized housing residents the means to move to market rate housing.

  41. Greg Hartwig

    Dan,
    Your desires have already been fulfilled. Public housing is not being expanded in Oakland, it is being improved; that is the purpose of the development. Everyone is a winner from this activity. Tenants are able to live in a healthy and pleasant environment, the city of Oakland is improved by replacing structurally and otherwise deficienct housing with quality housing, and local jobs are created. We still have a large task ahead in getting public housing into desired condition and configuration.

    Part of the mission of OHA is to help people transition from public housing to market housing. In fact, we just completed our annual strategy meeting where we decided to review our programs to see how OHA can become more effective in helping people.

    Greg Hartwig

  42. jicinsinolynC

    Nothing seems to be easier than seeing someone whom you can help but not helping.
    I suggest we start giving it a try. Give love to the ones that need it.
    God will appreciate it.

  43. Wow

    or maybe we should invest in more affordable housing and stop begging for market rate it only displaces people. More public housing tenants into affordable housing units and save money. Invest in small business for the community and by all means dont forget that sure enough we may vote for the mayor but pull his coat when he starts thinking boards and commissions is play time activity for residents. Maybe if some of these cdcs were actually grassroots based and invested in more community members could respond to what they would like to see in oakland not just the privaleged. I will not go hoarse into the night to tell other groups stop yelling on the city hall porch steps do your research and start making public comments rejecting the cities bull shit

  44. Dave B.

    Even though OHA cannot manage their current properties properly and they consistently negate accountability, they are currently on the warpath on getting more Federal stimulus dollars so they can move into more neighborhoods in Oakland. The beleaguered Northgate area is learning this lesson the hard way. OHA has plans to have Dallas developer Trammell Crow demolish the historic Courthouse building on Telegraph avenue and have constructed over a hundred units of Tax Credit Housing. Of course, this is just a little wordplay to cover up that is just more of their subsidized housing that is cause of so much misery in Oakland. After much community outcry and being reminded that if they accept any federal money they will have to fulfill more requirements (NEPA), they have withdrawn. Trammell Crow is proceeding with demolition and most likely after the site is cleared, OHA can re-enter the picture and attempt to negate complying with federal and state laws. OHA and Trammell Crow absolutely cannot be trusted on manners like this as they have proven to lack integrity by not telling the truth about their plans with our community.

  45. Dave B.

    Even though OHA cannot manage their current properties properly and they consistently negate accountability, they are currently on the warpath on getting more Federal stimulus dollars so they can move into more neighborhoods in Oakland. The beleaguered Northgate area is learning this lesson the hard way. OHA has plans to have Dallas developer Trammell Crow demolish the historic Courthouse building on Telegraph avenue and have constructed over a hundred units of Tax Credit Housing. Of course, this is just a little wordplay to cover up that is just more of their subsidized housing that is cause of so much misery in Oakland. After much community outcry and being reminded that if they accept any federal money they will have to fulfill more requirements (NEPA), they have withdrawn. Trammell Crow is proceeding with demolition and most likely after the site is cleared, OHA can re-enter the picture and attempt to negate complying with federal and state laws. OHA and Trammell Crow absolutely cannot be trusted on manners like this as they have proven to lack integrity by not telling the truth about their plans with our community.