The Long Beach Housing Authority is slowly moving toward a new federal program that will provide access to funds to make needed repairs at the city’s four public buildings.
Word of the move from the current system — public housing — to Section 8 Rental Assistance Demonstration, a U.S. Housing and Urban Development program, first came three years ago, when the authority invited residents to a meeting to inform them of its plans.
In a letter to residents dated Aug. 20, 2018, the authority stated, “RAD is a voluntary program run by [HUD]. Under RAD, HUD will change the way it provides rental assistance to the property from public housing to a long-term Section 8 assistance contract. The Section 8 program would make it easier for us to access money to repair and improve the property, either now or in the future.”
A RAD conversion is complex, but essentially it allows a nonprofit or for-profit entity to own and manage the property, and allows the owner to obtain other funding, such as low-income housing tax credits or state or local grants, to repair the property. Bringing in a private developer is not required, but can occur.
RAD began under the Obama administration.
The program was one of President Barack Obama’s answers to the problem of the country’s aging public-housing stock. Most public developments across the country were built in the middle of the last century, and require repairs commensurate with their age.
The Long Beach Housing Authority’s Channel Park project was built in 1970. The other three buildings were constructed in 1970 and 1975. About 500 families live in the Channel Park homes, and about 270 families are in the others, for seniors and the disabled.
The authority’s planned change has picked up steam in recent weeks. Two weeks ago, the City Council invited David Gallo, president of Georgica Green Ventures of Jericho, an affordable-housing developer, to a working session to inform council members what is involved in RAD conversions. Gallo has done some conversions, including one in Roslyn.
John McNally, executive assistant to the city manger, said the authority does not need the council’s approval for the conversion.
HUD must approve the authority’s conversion plan. Mike Cruz, the housing authority’s executive director, said he hoped to secure that approval by the end of the year.
But the authority’s 2018 letter to residents has raised alarm among some of the more than 700 families who live in the public buildings, according to North Park Civic Association leaders. “They’re terrified,” said Anissa Moore, a vice president of the civic group and a former City Council member.
James Hodge, chairman of the Martin Luther King Center, called for a meeting of building residents and authority and city officials to “thoroughly air” the proposals. “Is it good? Is it bad? The decision will affect the whole community,” Hodge said. “There should be a full conversation about this.”
Some residents, Moore said, fear they will lose their apartments or their rents will be raised. The residents pay 30 percent of their income for public housing.
Cruz, in an interview last week, said the change would not result in evictions or rent increases. He pointed to the 2018 letter, which stated: “In most cases, your rent will not change with the conversion from public housing to Section 8. In the rare event that your rent calculation would change (most commonly, when you are paying a ceiling rent), the increase would be phased in over time.”
The letter also mentioned the possibility of temporarily relocating residents to make upgrades and repairs.
“You have a right to return to an assisted unit once any construction work is done,” it read. “However, we may need to move you during construction and your post-construction home may be a different unit than your current home. If the plans involve the transfer of the rental assistance to a different site, you may need to move to the new site to keep your rental assistance (provided that it is within a reasonable distance of your current home), but you still have a right to an assisted unit.”
Warren Vegh, the authority’s board chairman, said, “We are moving to RAD.” He referred all other questions to Cruz.
Cruz, who has been the authority’s executive director for six years, said the language in the letter was precautionary.
“There will be no impact on residents,” he said in an interview in his office. “The [housing authority] board is positive on this. We are going through the process on this. We want to make sure it’s positive for our residents.”
Cruz said the authority would begin the conversion slowly, with two of its buildings — one at 35 East Broadway and the other at 175 West Broadway.
“We want to see how it works,” he said.
Gallo said RAD is not always the solution for every public housing development. Residents, he said, typically express concerns about conversions.
“This is their home,” he said. “This is where they live. This is where they eat dinner.” He said he brought tenants together to explain the program, which helped ease tension.
Gwen O’Shea, president and chief executive officer of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, a 48-year old organization that serves Long Island and the greater New York metropolitan area, applauded the authority’ plans.
“RAD conversions are great,” O’Shea said. “This is a way for additional capital for [the] health and safety issue of residents.”
O’Shea said, however, that she understood why residents might be concerned about RAD. “Whenever there’s change, it’s a natural perception to feel concern,” she noted.