LA’s Project Tenants Mobilize Against HUD’s Transforming Rental Assistance Initiative

Low-income tenants feel sold out, don’t want Section 8.

By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer

Residents of Ramona Gardens and other public housing facilities in Los Angeles say they are worried about the Department of Housing and Urban Developments’ (HUD) proposed Transforming Rental Assistance Initiative (TRA), a program and policy change HUD says will streamline rental assistance programs nationwide by converting public housing developments into Section 8 rental-assistance facilities.

At an April 23 meeting at Ramona Gardens, residents were told about potential drawbacks to the program changes that they say have so far only been described in rosy terms by housing representatives.

It was the third meeting Blanca Ramos had attended on the topic, but the first one where she says the truth came out. Ramos has lived in Ramona Gardens for less than a year and was the only person at the meeting who has experience with Section 8 Housing.

“There is no maximum for rent under Section 8, they raise your rent whenever they want, and if they don’t want to renew your contract they don’t,” Ramos said, adding she often felt discriminated against.

Elizabeth Blaney of Union de Vecinos and Lou Calanche of Legacy L.A. lead the meeting hosted by the residents.

Blaney explained that in January, HUD announced TRA as a way for the agency to manage its financially strapped budget.

“They want to remove 300,000 pubic housing units in the United States and the way they are going to do it is by converting them to Section 8,” she said. “So they are not going to tear down Ramona Gardens, but one day you’ll go to sleep as a public housing resident and the next day you will wake up a Section 8 client. It is a designation they will do just like that,” she said.

Residents at the meeting said the benefits of living in a public housing complex, like Ramona Gardens include: income-based rent and a rent cap; if a head of a household’s income drops to zero and is unable to pay rent, they aren’t evicted; legal residency documentation is not required; and there is a lot of “neighborliness.”

Many said they are being told that the change to Section 8 will be positive, but details as to why are vague and few.

Blaney said one of the main drawbacks is that it is hard to find housing in desirable neighborhoods because not all landlords accept Section 8 vouchers. She also said the rental agreement is different and could reduce the renters’ rights and ability to organize in their best interest. She also said that under Section 8 it is easier to evict a tenant and participants are required to have legal immigration status. She pointed to the demolition and rebuilding of the Pico Aliso housing projects as an example of why the housing authority and developers cannot be trusted to keep their promises.

While Congress is scheduled to consider TRA this spring, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) is already considering a similar conversion proposal for Estrada Courts, Pueblo del Rio and San Fernando Gardens, that might take affect later this year.

“We don’t know if TRA will get congressional approval so certainly, what we wouldn’t want to do is wait a long time and then find out it’s not approved, and have wasted a year or two,” Rudolf Montiel, president and CEO of HACLA told EGP on Monday.

According to Montiel, even if the initiative is considered this spring, there is no guarantee it will pass. He compared it to the Section 8 Voucher Reform that took several years to be approved.
“I think, in the simplest terms, the Transforming Rental Assistance Initiative seeks to bring a bold initiative from HUD to streamline 11 funding streams into one,” he said. “Basically, today you have 11 different ways of funding rental properties or subsidies, and TRA would essentially make it all kind of Section 8 project-based funding,” he explained.

The local benefit is a larger subsidy for Section 8 than in public housing formulas, he added.
“So for the same unit of rental housing, a local housing authority might get more money under one scenario than another. Section 8 would be more beneficial to HACLA,” Montiel said.

Montiel said the conversion to Section 8 would mainly help the Housing Authority to both increase the numbers of affordable housing units in the city, and to receive higher subsidies for those rental units.

“For residents it’s pretty transparent, it doesn’t have benefits but it doesn’t have any pitfalls.

Essentially they stay in their same unit paying the same rent,” he said. “For the housing authority it does represent increased subsidy for the same unit, but most importantly, what is very exciting about the program, the way it exists today, when we did our conversion of 651 units back in 2008 we received what are called replacement vouchers. So we ended up not only keeping these units permanently subsidized because we didn’t transfer ownership, they stayed within one of the housing authority entities, and on top of that we got the higher subsidy, and on top of that we got 651 new vouchers. So at the end of the day, Los Angeles as a whole was 651 units better off than it was before we did the conversion.” Montiel said.

The conversion, that HACLA calls “Tenant In-Place Conversion,” is not experimental and has already been implemented at the Independent Square housing facility near USC.

HACLA has done some outreach, but since TRA has not been enacted, the housing authority has not formally started the process for public meetings or public hearings, Montiel said.

As for other concerns relating to eligibility for undocumented residents, the eviction process, resident groups, and drops in income, Montiel said Section 8 has almost the same policies, just under different names.

Conversions are misunderstood, he said. It is an administrative process for the Housing Authority; they are not trying to dispose of public housing units, Montiel said.

“Quite the contrary, we are very intent on keeping every single hard-unit that we have, every unit of Section 8 subsidy and even when we redevelop, for example at Jordan Downs, we are committed to one-to-one replacement of public housing units. So I think a lot of the concerns are not rooted or based in fact.”

Residents, however, are not so sure. Until all the details are out in the open, it is likely they will remain fearful that the change may not be in their best interest. Rather than waiting to see what happens, many say they will continue to meet and strategize how to go about ensuring tenants, and not just budgets, are taken into consideration.

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May 6, 2010  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


One Response to “LA’s Project Tenants Mobilize Against HUD’s Transforming Rental Assistance Initiative”

  1. Me on August 7th, 2010 12:21 pm

    The Ramona Gardens projects would be better off being abolished! 4 generations of people living in the most desirable state in the country for peanuts needs to end! People in L.A. working two full times jobs can’t even get a place to live at all because of a bad credit check sometimes. Send them to Phoenix or Dallas or someplace that fits their lifestyle more appropriately. California is just to expensive these days for projects anymore and they need to go away!

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