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Rent vouchers squeezed

Published 8:24pm Saturday, May 18, 2013

In an effort to cut costs, participants in the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s rent voucher program are facing increased scrutiny.

The SRHA is taking a three-pronged approach to ensure that funding pressures on the federally supported program, often known as Section 8, don’t mean families lose the roof over their heads, according to Clarissa McAdoo, its executive director.

Under Section 8, public housing agencies like the SRHA provide qualifying low-income families, as well as disabled and elderly individuals, vouchers toward private housing. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development picks up the majority of the tab.

Rentals must meet certain health and safety standards, while landlords agree to charge “fair market rent,” determined by HUD.

The program is getting squeezed on two main fronts.

First, according to a letter to agencies from Carol J. Galante, its assistant secretary for housing, sequestration will force HUD to cut Section 8 funding by a projected 5 percent.

Second, fair market rent has been steadily rising. For instance, rent on a two-bedroom apartment in Suffolk climbed 6.77 percent in fiscal 2013 to $1,136, after rising 10.26 percent in 2012.

“We’re having to work with less funding, but the values are higher,” McAdoo said.

Under the first two prongs in the SRHA’s cost-cutting approach, non-complying families could find themselves sidelined from the program.

The intent is to ensure that “people who are not supposed to be assisted are not assisted anymore,” McAdoo said.

While individual authorities determine eligibility, according to HUD, a family’s income generally can’t exceed 50 percent of the locality’s median income.

The SRHA is certifying that families are reporting the correct income by checking its records against those of the Virginia Employment Commission and the U.S. Social Security Administration, McAdoo said.

Next, she said, the authority is targeting “individuals who have not kept up with their family’s obligations.”

Participants can opt for rentals that cost more than the voucher covers, and large overdue amounts and persistent arrears may sideline participants, she said.

The third and most controversial measure seeks to save money by downsizing apartments in cases where family members have moved out.

“We are trying to make sure individuals are in the correct apartment size for the family’s composition,” McAdoo said.

“We have individuals who may have had the need for a three-bedroom apartment when they came on the program, but over the years children have gotten older and gone, and the head of the family has wanted to maintain the three-bedroom apartment.

“From a budget standpoint, we are then funding a voucher for a three-bedroom apartment, when right now they should be in a one-bedroom apartment, saving us money and also making sure (we) keep individuals who need to be served on the program.”

Appropriateness of apartment size relative to family composition will be scrutinized as each of the SRHA’s 809 voucher recipients undergoes its mandatory annual recertification, McAdoo said.

Section 8 regulations differ from those for the public housing program that the SRHA also runs, she said. “There are no provisions for us to give children their own room. If they are a certain age, they can still reside in the room with the parent.”

Some SRHA staff may have “tried to work around that” to keep families in larger apartments after children have moved on, “but we are not able to do that anymore,” she said.

Regina Hall, vice chairman of the SRHA Board of Commissioners and its resident commissioner, said recently two families had contacted her with concerns about apartment downsizing.

“Those concerns are that in the past they have been allowed to have larger homes with more rooms,” Hall said. “But if you don’t have the (correct) family composition, you have to downsize.”

Residents’ concerns are valid, Hall said, but “I also believe with budget cuts and issues that are being addressed with money, everyone has to look at ways to cut costs.

“Every child does deserve their privacy, but we also have to look at whether or not you are in the right unit size.”

HUD’s Richmond field office and central Washington office mandated the measure during a conference call, McAdoo said. The extra scrutiny began a little more than three months ago and will be ongoing as annual recertification continues, she said.

Children would not be forced to sleep in the same room as their parents or guardians “because there are two people in that bedroom already.”

But, she added, “If there’s a single-parent family and a child of a specific age, then that would be the parent and the child in that room. There shouldn’t be any issue there.”

Voucher costs will also be trimmed through attrition, McAdoo said. The program is currently closed to new applicants, and two or three participants leave the program each month, she said.

In fiscal 2013, HUD partial payments accounted for 88 percent of $5.97 million in income for the SRHA’s Section 8 program.

Though Galante has flagged cuts due to sequestration, HUD has yet to declare funding for the forthcoming fiscal year, McAdoo said. “We are in the budget process now, and this is where we are trying to make some sense,” she said.

Funding pressures mean the voucher program will ultimately serve fewer people in Suffolk, according to McAdoo.

“The problem with that (is) it’s affecting the most vulnerable of our citizens, and I’m trying to not do that,” she said.

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  • Cat

    The problem with the Section 8 rent voucher program is that the local property owners and investors with rental properties just simply do not trust the SRHA inspectors who administer the programs. As is obvious from this article the SRHA pays subsidized rents much higher than are advertised locally by the leading property owners in Suffolk (Eure, Young, Chorey, Cross, etc.) as can easily be seen by just looking at the ads in this very newspaper every day.

    Unfortunately the SRHA’s extremely inexperienced inspectors create a virtual world war in making the well known owners spend literally thousands of dollars on the whims of the Section 8 tenant demands. Landlords are given twenty four hours to restore utilities after a hurricane or natural disaster, any complaint made by the tenant, no mater how unreasonable, is forced upon the landlord with no right to appeal and with unreasonable demands no court would demand but which the inspectors openly and arrogantly demand. There is an old story that has gone around for years about the Section 8 tenant who dreamed she saw “bats” in her sleep and the SRHA inspector making the landlord hire someone to prove there were no “bats” or anything similar in the unit other than the tenant (who had nothing to lose) just being angry with the landlord.

    In fact, I understand many of the landlords refuse now even to consider Section 8 Renters even though the City’s standards are just as strong for the landlords but who do not have to sit back with no help from the SRHA while the Section 8 tenant and frequent unauthorized “guests” live in the units and receive the housing subsidy the SRHA won’t police.

    To pay subsidized two bedroom rents as noted here that amount to about 50% over market rates to “friendly”
    landlords is offensive to all working people in Suffolk. New construction across from Lakeside is openly marketed for less than $800 per month.

    If the SRHA would require its subsidized people to honor their leases with the same standards of the great majority of working tenants, this “crisis” from the SRHA would go away in just months and maybe much better units would be offered to these subsidized tenants if the “friendly” landlords with the slum properties were not
    treated with such secret favorite treatment and hugely overstated rents for junk properties because the SRHA couldn’t attract the owners of the better properties.

    Suggest Removal

  • Jack

    Always a nice BMW or MB parked in the yard of these houses too.. Glad I can help keep their standard of living up with my taxes…

    Suggest Removal

  • NY2VA

    Many Section 8 recipients are just delighted that they never have to worry about paying “rent”. They just move into decent housing, ruin the property and move on. Not only are they getting reduced or free rent, they get food stamps, medical coverage and energy assistance. How is this fair to the hard working individual who struggles and plans to pay their bills when all of these indivuals get a free ride? What makes it even worse is that in some families it goes on for generations. This is why we do not have funds for improvements, there is no policing of these individuals. These should not be LIFELONG PERKS!

    Suggest Removal

  • Lovebug

    The whole system needs an overhaul. Section 8 housing and any other assistance program should ONLY be for truly disabled people or our elderly NOT for those who simply don’t have a job or give birth to several children they know in advance they can’t take care of. I don’t want to see anyone on the street but people have to realize that if you actually work and put the time into it you can keep yourself off of the street. Billions of people do it everyday. I have a family member who is truly disabled and hes been trying to get help for 7 years now. He continues to be put on a BS list and never getting any help. The people that serve our country and are disabled from that, people who have temp fallen on hard times, and our elderly should be the only people collecting these benefits.

    Suggest Removal

  • cherokee1

    I’m offended to read that some SRHA staff may have “tried to work around that” when it comes to downsizing families into the right sized apartments. Rules are rules for a reason. Make it a little uncomfortable for these users/abusers of the system and maybe they’ll have a little incentive to get a decent job and support themselves. Whoever has been “working around” the rules should be FIRED!!! That’s fraud.

    Suggest Removal

    • Savannah Gal

      As long as they’re “working around” the system, they themselves have a job. It’s Suffolk we’re talking about here. Honesty? Pshaw! Why be honest when it obviously pays to scam the system?

      Suggest Removal

  • Savannah Gal

    My neighbors couldn’t sell their home, so instead they made it a section 8 rental (farewell to our property values going up). We were not pleased.

    The family is nice enough, started with a lady and her 2 kids, but there has been a recent addition of a boyfriend/husband. Quiet and keep to themselves but what bothers us is that the government is paying their rent, while they pay Rent-to-Own for a very large screen tv (over 45 inches) and other items that really are not things someone on Section 8 should be able to afford, otherwise, what is the reason they can’t pay their rent?

    So while my husband faced furloughs and we looked for ways to tighten our belts, his tax dollars are hard at work paying someones rent when in all honesty, they could pay it themselves. They just wouldn’t have the “extras” they get because keeping a roof over their head would be the priority it is for most of us. Its frustrating and an abuse of the system, and I personally feel Section 8 needs to be a dropped program.

    Suggest Removal

  • hambone

    This program is a joke . Suffolk has become a welfare low income city downtown. Nort Suffolk has grown is clean and joyful to go to. Downtown is old looking , and low income who could care less to work or move out of section 8. Look at cogic square and hofler apartments. These are lifetime welfare and section 8 suffolkians. Sad to see our downtown area continue to be low income full time welfare . I’ll be moving out because bad city leaders and higher taxes ,higher water, and more low income people moving in . Sad times to be in Suffolk.

    Suggest Removal

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