OAKLAND — City and Oakland Housing Authority officials heaped praise on each other Wednesday as they signed an agreement to settle a lawsuit the city filed in early 2007 to clean up Oakland's public housing.
What a difference two years makes.
It was then — in February 2007 — city officials used words like "deplorable" to describe the conditions of Oakland's public housing as they took legal action to force the Housing Authority to take better care of its properties. The Housing Authority responded by calling the lawsuit "frivolous" and saying the core of the problem was a lack of funding from Washington, D.C.
"We've made a lot of progress over the last two years since the city filed a public-nuisance action against the Oakland Housing Authority," City Attorney John Russo said. "And I want to be clear, although we did file a lawsuit, we have since come to the table together with our colleagues at OHA and worked well together to reach what all of us believe is a good settlement for the thousands of families who live in public housing in Oakland."
Russo joined Housing Authority Executive Director Jon Gresley in signing the settlement, the terms of which will last three years.
"Often, you know you've got the right agreement because nobody's happy with it," Gresley said. "This is just the opposite. This is a time when we have an agreement that everybody's happy with, and I think it is the right agreement."
While the parties agreed to work together out of court, they still disagreed over whether the city needed to file suit in the first place.
"I'm going to say something a little different," said Moses Mayne, chair of the Housing Authority board. "Let's be perfectly clear: Nobody's happy with a lawsuit and we were not ecstatic when we got hit with the lawsuit."
That said, Mayne, a former City Council member, said that since February 2007, the two sides have worked well together. The agreement will establish a working group of officials with decision-making authority from both agencies to improve public housing.
It also will mandate expedited building permits; participation by Housing Authority officials in neighborhood crime-prevention meetings; cooperation between the Housing Authority and the Oakland Police Department; minimum levels of property inspection and management; the continuation of monthly reports; and a Housing Authority customer service center to field complaints.
Russo said: "I've never looked at a settlement "... as the last word that fixes all problems in a relationship for all time. However, this settlement does provide a substantive framework to remedy complaints as they happen and it represents a much more cooperative and a much more transparent approach to managing public housing in our city."
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.