Monday, May 25, 2009

My letter to the editor of the Berkeley Daily Planet regarding my housing co-op

Dear Editor:

I live at Savo Island Cooperative Homes, Inc, a HUD-sponsored housing project here in south Berkeley, located right across the street from the Berkeley Bowl. There is a housing project similar to Savo Island in every city and town in America, all built in 1979 -- under the guidance of President Jimmy Carter. But that was then and this is now.

Right now, our little housing co-op is pretty much falling apart. The siding is falling off, the roofs leak, etc. "How come Savo looks so trashy?" a neighbor asked me the other day.

"Because HUD, our various management companies and several residents here have been trying to get the place re-habbed for over eight years now -- and every time we almost get the re-hab going, our board of directors seems to drop the ball." The latest nail in our re-hab's coffin was pounded in last week when our lending bank withdrew their offer to give us a re-hab loan. The bank officially cited their reason for backing out as being because of "the passage of time since this project was engaged." But perhaps the bank also withdrew because Savo's board had just fired yet another management company, this one being the 13th or 14th one the board has gone through, averaging a different management company approximately every two years. Never a good idea to change horses in mid-stream. And now Savo Island not only has to scramble around looking for another lender -- they also have to find another management company too (the one the board had lined up next has not been approved by HUD).

In addition, HUD has recently required that our board of directors be supplemented by two outside financial and/or housing experts. Maybe this will finally help get our re-hab back on track. But in the meantime Savo Island continues to look like it was built in 1879 instead of 1979, developers are apparently hoping our re-hab will fail so that they can swoop in and construct yet another Berkeley high-rise condo on this site, and our whole neighborhood is beginning to panic about what will happen here next. And I'm panicked too -- as the possibility of homelessness begins to stare me in the face.

So. What action do I want the readers of the Berkeley Daily Planet to take regarding this matter? That's easy. Please, please, PLEASE don't anyone tell Jimmy Carter what has befallen his wonderful fair-and-affordable housing dream for Berkeley.

Jane Stillwater
Berkeley, CA 94703