Federal Housing Agency Threatens to Take Over Marin Housing Authority

Golden Gate Village residents have known for years that the Marin Housing Authority is not adequately maintaining the 60-year-old public housing complex in Marin City.

Now, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is threatening to take control of the agency due to repeated “failing or near failing physical scores” at Golden Gate Village.

HUD issued a letter to Lewis Jordan, MHA’s executive director, on May 14 regarding the “lack of progress” on the Golden Gate Village revitalization plans and directed the agency to develop a corrective action plan by Sept. 11. MHA neglected to inform the residents of the letter, although a memorandum of understanding exists between the local agency and Golden Gate Village residents, which states that “residents shall be involved and participate in the overall policy development and direction of public housing operations.”

Residents learned of HUD’s letter at the MHA meeting last month, more than 100 days after it was received. A HUD consultant, Kathleen Foster, made a presentation to the authority’s board of commissioners outlining the three necessary requirements of the corrective action plan to prevent the federal agency from reducing the MHA’s operating funds and potentially its Section 8 funds.

MHA’s plan must include a timeline for the Golden Gate Village revitalization, a list of the steps the agency will undertake to ensure all residents are provided with appropriate quality housing during revitalization and a remedy to “overhousing” at the development, a HUD phrase referring  to residents who live in units which are larger than necessary.

The risk of HUD assuming the responsibilities of the MHA is real. HUD recently took control of another housing authority in California and replaced the board with HUD officials, Foster said.

In Marin County, the MHA board is comprised of the five members of the Board of Supervisors and two members who either reside in public housing or hold a housing choice voucher—formerly called Section 8. Although Golden Gate Village is by far the largest public housing complex in Marin, it does not have a resident on the board.

If the MHA does not address the overhousing issue, it will be in violation of HUD regulations. Foster indicated the solution can likely be included in the revitalization plan, rather than trying to relocate the residents now.

There are 72 overhoused units in the 300-unit complex, according to HUD. Most are apartments rented by seniors whose bedroom needs declined as children moved out of the home. Unfortunately, there are only 44 one-bedroom units at Golden Gate Village.

Therein lies the rub. More one-bedroom units are needed for the overhoused seniors.

MHA’s existing proposal for Golden Gate Village includes hiring a private developer based in New Jersey, The Michaels Organization, to demolish 16 existing units at Golden Gate Village and replace them with two new high-rise towers containing 156 units, which could house some of the seniors. After the new construction is complete, renovations will begin on the existing Golden Gate Village apartments.

The “build first” strategy allows residents to temporarily relocate in the new units until the rehabilitation is finished. Due to the considerable level of rehabilitation required, residents cannot stay in their units during the renovation, Foster said.

The Golden Gate Village Resident Council adamantly opposes the demolition of any of the buildings in the complex, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. They say trailers can be placed in Marin City to house residents during the revitalization. The Council has a plan for the “deep green” renovation of Golden Gate Village and a route to home ownership through a community land trust.

“The County is hanging its hat on overhousing to build new buildings,” Golden Gate Village Resident Council volunteer Barbara Bogard said. “Here’s the bomb Lewis Jordan told us: Michael’s does have a new plan. It just hasn’t been presented to us yet.”

That is indeed an interesting development, considering the contract between the MHA and The Michaels Organization expired in February 2020.

Perhaps residents should welcome HUD’s oversight of the deteriorated development, which houses about 700 predominantly Black residents. HUD is always responsive to what residents say, Foster says. Conversely, the MHA has largely ignored the Golden Gate Village Resident Council revitalization plan.

Residents fear the MHA wants to raze Golden Gate Village, leading the way for further gentrification of Marin City and the possible displacement of low-income Black residents, many of whom have lived there for generations. MHA has repeatedly denied any intention to demolish all 29 buildings on the 30-acre property.

“This is a historic property and there is no plan to demolish it,” Supervisor Stephanie Moulton-Peters said.

Still, MHA has dragged its feet on moving ahead with any plan, despite the pleas of the residents to renovate Golden Gate Village. The apartments are rife with mold, rodents, plumbing leaks, broken heating, faulty wiring and fire hazards, according to residents.

Moreover, residents do not trust the MHA and its vendors. In 2018, a physical needs assessment report prepared by AEI Consultants estimated the cost to renovate Golden Gate Village at $63 million. Last November, they estimated the cost at just over $90 million, a 43% cost increase in two years.

The Resident Council and a group of concerned citizens, including architects, lawyers, a real estate developer and a certified public accountant, scrutinized the latest report and found alarming financial discrepancies. 

A volunteer attorney representing the residents summarized the irregularities in a letter. It included an unexplained duplication of line item costs, calling for work inconsistent with existing conditions and errors in gross square footage and unit count figures. MHA responded by having the same company, AEI Consultants, prepare another report in March of this year.

Not surprisingly, the cost estimate went back down to $63 million. AEI’s excuses for the errors are shocking. HUD provided a file to AEI and the company “didn’t understand the formulas,” but nonetheless proceeded to use it, Scott Moyer, a construction cost estimator for AEI, said at the MHA meeting in August. More mistakes were made in the 2020 cost estimate when AEI relied on building dimensions obtained from Google Earth. To prepare the 2021 estimate, AEI requested the architectural drawings from the County.

“It’s embarrassing that the County hired them,” Bogard said. “They should have fired them and gotten their money back.”

Additional money was spent on a third-party construction consultant to review AEI’s estimates. It is unclear whether AEI or MHA paid for the reviewer’s fees.

For now, MHA is still in charge and will choose how Golden Gate Village is renovated. Hopefully, HUD will keep the agency in check as it moves forward with the corrective action plan or ultimately take over the project should the MHA fail.

“I’ve been in this heavy since 2013,” Royce McLemore, president of the Golden Gate Village Resident Council, said. “I’m talked out. We have a revitalization plan. Our plan is a real plan. We’re tired of living like we live.”

Nikki Silverstein
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