‘Tough times’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 25, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

Times are tough.

This is how Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority Executive Director Clarissa E. McAdoo describes the position the agency and its national counterparts find itself in after learning that federal Section 8 funding will be significantly cut.


Email newsletter signup

Officials are still tallying what this means in actual dollars, but one thing is for sure: Drastic changes are in store for Section 8 residents.

The new federal mandate, approved by Congress, means the agency has less to pay toward residents’ monthly rental costs. Under the Section 8 program, rent is established based on household size and income. The federal money is then allocated to local housing authorities to pay participating landlords whose rents are within fair market rates.

At Tuesday’s monthly board meeting, commissioners are set to approve a reduction in the SRHA’s program cost for the Section 8 program, and immediately implement modifications to soften the blow.

Faced with cutting Section 8, which serves about 100 residents, the housing authority opted to alter the degree to which it supplements rental costs. At least 1,000 residents remain on the waiting list.

&uot;This is better than no assistance at all,&uot; McAdoo expressed with concern at a meeting earlier this month as the board prepared to view an affordable housing exhibit in Virginia Beach.

&uot;We are spreading the paint out…Times are tough.&uot;

Referencing early probabilities that involved the elimination of Section 8, McAdoo added, &uot;I was not willing to go that drastic. That was a stretch.&uot;

Instead the board will consider these changes to the program on Tuesday:

nIncreasing the minimum rent from $25 to $50 for residents who have no income at all. The housing authority board also voiced concern at this month’s committee meeting that it should take a closer look at how these residents are actually sustaining themselves, if they, in fact, have no financial resources;

nRequire families to report interim changes within 10 days of the change to allow for quick reassessments to determine whether the family can contribute more toward their rental costs;

nReducing the bedroom sizes, allowing determinations based on two members per bedroom regardless of age or sex. This change would impact families moving to another unit, or new admissions to the program;

nInstead of using 100 percent of fair market rent as a payment standard, the SRHA will only consider 90 percent in arriving at its monthly rental contribution. Program participants will be affected at their second annual reexamination.

With the changes in view, McAdoo told board members earlier this month that the agency plans to devote more attention to its self-sufficiency programs to help residents transition off of assistance.

Meanwhile, this funding crisis also bolstered the SRHA’s mission to facilitate more affordable housing opportunities in the city. The $10 Fairgrounds plan, for which the agency is the lead agency in partnership with the city, is a focal point of this ongoing effort, promising to generate many homeownership opportunities for first-time buyers.

But affordable housing is not a subject that will die anytime soon in Suffolk as it struggles with the influx of high-end housing and meeting the needs of its economically diverse population.

SRHA Board Chairman Daniel H. Forbes said at the committee meeting earlier this month that he sees many &uot;challenges&uot; with developing an affordable housing plan for the community.

&uot;Everyone is talking about affordable housing, but no one is doing anything about it,&uot; said Forbes. &uot;It’s a little bit disgusting.&uot;

The agency appeared to be seeking new direction when the board and staff toured the affordable housing exhibit at the Virginia Cultural Arts Center in Virginia Beach this month.

They evaluated several innovative home designs submitted from architects worldwide. McAdoo saw it as a way to look outside of the box to bring alternative solutions to Suffolk.

&uot;We’re looking at quality of life,&uot; said McAdoo, &uot;and looking beyond the people we currently serve. I’m talking about everyone I meet. There should be a level of affordability for everyone.&uot;