Alameda resident Arminda Graca received her file last week from the Alameda Housing Authority, a thick stack of documents delivered in quadruplicate. But Graca, whose Section 8 apartment was inundated with mold and mildew following a suspected sewage leak, told the Alameda City Council Tuesday night that the voluminous record omitted call logs detailing a large amount of complaints she had lodged with the Housing Authority about the accident since last year.
Her testimony came during a referral offered by Alameda Councilmembers Jim Oddie and Malia Vella that aims to potentially return the Housing Authority back under the auspices of the city or, at minimum, resolves a rising number of transparency and accountability issues stemming from complaints by Housing Authority tenants.
“I’m just tired. What are our protections? They can bully us, but we can’t bully them,” Graca told the council. “We get written up, get kicked off the program. But why can they do it to us? We need you guys.”
Oddie said he feels helpless when residents ask him for help to solve issues with the Housing Authority. He has voiced this sentiments in the past and said it is the impetus for the referral asking staff to bring back suggestions for how to alleviate apparent problem areas, particularly surrounding code enforcement and reforming the appeals process for tenants.
People who used to love where they lived are now so rule-bound that they describe their living situation as oppressive and run more like a prison.
“Yes, there is an appeals process,” Oddie said in response to comments by Housing Authority officials that tenants have an avenue for appealing decisions. “But you have to become homeless basically before you take advantage of it.”
The Alameda Housing Authority was given autonomy from City Hall in 2012 at the behest of former City Manager John Russo.
Oddie added that he does not intend to disrupt how the Housing Authority does its everyday business, but reforms are needed in light of new restrictions the City Council has applied on landlords in the past year. He added that the Housing Authority’s Board of Commissioners, a body appointed by the mayor, lacked accountability to the public.
The comment rankled Alameda Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft. “There is absolutely no reason to attack a volunteer board of very qualified individuals,” Ashcraft said.
“I don’t think I attack anyone,” Oddie later said.
Ashcraft then criticized a member of the Alameda Renters Coalition for allegedly skipping a meeting between her, the city manager, and the head of the Housing Authority, to discuss tenant issues and possibly foster an amicable solution.
Catherine Pauling of the Alameda Renters Coalition denied she turned down the opportunity to meet with city officials, but added, “There’s a serious problem. People who used to love where they lived are now so rule-bound that they describe their living situation as oppressive and run more like a prison.”
In recent months, several problematic stories from tenants have emerged, including quite a few who describe Housing Authority employees allegedly speaking dismissively of Section 8 recipients and their concerns. But clear support for taking greater control of the city department was not apparent last Tuesday night.
“I’m not overly on-board with the idea of bringing the Housing Authority back underneath us,” Councilmember John Knox White said. “The stories are heartbreaking and I believe them,” he added. Councilmember Tony Daysog said the Housing Authority’s has been successful in the years following its move away from City Hall. A city staff report with suggestions for reforming the Housing Authority may have come back to the City Council sometime in February, City Manager Eric Levitt said.