Dead ends fill Sec­tion 8 hunt

Vouch­ers work only if land­lords ac­cept them, and many don’t

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By SARAH MERVOSH and JULIETA CHIQUILLO Staff Writ­ers

Robin Bobo has a steady job at a hos­pi­tal, good ref­er­ences and a tight timetable for his apart­ment hunt — he needs to move into a new place right away.

But he also has one thing most

land­lords don’t want: a Sec­tion 8 hous­ing voucher.

This slip of pa­per says that

the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will pay a por­tion of a fam­ily’s rent each month. The na­tion’s largest rental as­sis­tance pro­gram, it’s sup­posed to of­fer mil­lions of Amer­i­cans a ticket to a bet­ter life — de­cent hous­ing, safe neigh­bor­hoods, good schools.

Yet hous­ing vouch­ers work only if land­lords ac­cept them, and these days many do not. In North Texas, en­tire com­mu­ni­ties are off lim­its to these poor renters be­cause not a sin­gle apart­ment com­plex there par­tic­i­pates in the voucher pro­gram, one re­cent sur­vey found.

Fam­i­lies here spend months look­ing for a land­lord who takes vouch­ers. They stay in ho­tels, burn through sav­ings and de­lay en­rolling their chil­dren in school — all be­cause they can’t find a place to live.

This is one fam­ily’s story.

A lucky break

Bobo, 35, works as a di­etary su­per­vi­sor at a Richard­son hos­pi­tal. He starts work be­fore sun­rise and spends the morn­ing mak­ing sure pa­tients get the spe­cial di­ets their doc­tors or­der. He said he re­cently got a raise: from $11 an hour to $14. That’s about $30,000 a year, plus over­time.

In the af­ter­noons, he hangs out with his 11-year-old daugh­ter, who lives with him some of the time. They read, prac­tice ten­nis and play video games.

Quiet and un­der­stated, Bobo is a do-it-your­self kind of guy. When the head­lights went out on his old Monte Carlo, he tin­kered with the car him­self.

That self-reliance made him re­luc­tant to ap­ply for a hous­ing voucher, he said. But when he got off the wait­ing list in 2002, he had just lost his job at a ho­tel in Michi­gan and was grate­ful for the help.

When he moved to Texas seven years later, he was able to trans­fer the voucher to Dal­las County.

He lived in a cou­ple of apart­ments be­fore he set­tled into a place in Richard­son. The two-story rental had a fire­place, a pa­tio and a cov­ered park­ing spot. He painted his daugh­ter’s room pink, hung fam­ily photos on the walls and put up a tree at Christ­mas.

It was a safe neigh­bor­hood, close to good schools and to his hos­pi­tal job. And he only paid $585 a month in rent, he said, about half the mar­ket price.

Bobo said he felt lucky. Few land­lords ac­cept vouch­ers any­where, let alone in a mid­dle-class sub­urb like Richard­son.

Forced to move

Bobo planned to live in the Richard­son apart­ment un­til he could buy a home of his own. He said he re­cently joined a Dal­las County pro­gram that helps fam­i­lies with vouch­ers set fi­nan­cial goals and save money. He hoped he could stop tak­ing help from the gov­ern­ment within a few years.

But in early June, dur­ing a rou­tine in­spec­tion, county of­fi­cials found that his land­lord hadn’t kept the apart­ment up to code. They pointed to a de­fec­tive stove burner, chipped paint on the bath­tub and gunk built up on the air ducts, Bobo said.

The most egre­gious vi­o­la­tion was out­side his front door: a rot­ting wooden beam, crawl­ing with ants.

Bobo’s land­lord had un­til mid-July to get in com­pli­ance — or the gov­ern­ment would stop pay­ing its por­tion of the rent.

The land­lord didn’t make re­pairs.

Bobo had to move out.

As he searched for apart­ments, Bobo re­called, he turned his couch into an of­fice. He spread his lap­top and pa­pers over TV trays as he worked through rental web­sites and a list of pos­si­ble land­lords the county gave him. Ide­ally, he wanted to stay in Richard­son, but he also looked in Dal­las, Mesquite, Gar­land and Rowlett.

Bobo quickly learned that the county’s list was out­dated. Some of the phone num­bers had been dis­con­nected. Some com­plexes no longer ac­cepted vouch­ers.

Other land­lords claimed they took vouch­ers but re­quired ten­ants to make three times the amount of the un­sub­si­dized rent. If he made that much money, Bobo said with a wry laugh, he wouldn’t need a voucher.

Bobo fig­ured that if he called ev­ery num­ber on the list, he’d find at least some­thing. In­stead, he found out just how hot the Dal­las rental mar­ket has become. More than 60,000 peo­ple move to the re­gion for jobs each year, a del­uge of com­pe­ti­tion for low-in­come ten­ants like him.

He didn’t re­mem­ber apart­ment hunt­ing be­ing this dif­fi­cult in the past, when his big­gest worry had been avoid­ing units with in­sect in­fes­ta­tions.

“But now,” he said, “it’s like you can’t even find one with bugs.”

His Aug. 1 move-out date loomed.

Liv­ing in limbo

The weeks went by. Bobo slowly packed his be­long­ings.

By the be­gin­ning of Au­gust, he still hadn’t found a place to live. So he moved into a friend’s house in Lit­tle Elm, about 30 miles north of Richard­son. He trav­eled back and forth to work, burn­ing money on gas.

The mak­ings of his life — a couch, cast iron skil­lets, his daugh­ter’s Con­verse sneak­ers — sat in stor­age.

A real-es­tate agent Bobo en­listed wasn’t hav­ing any luck. Shelly Koehler of Keller Wil­liams said she sent about 30 emails on Bobo’s be­half and re­ceived just four re­sponses. They all read the same: “No, thank you.”

Bobo grew frus­trated — then weary.

“I’ve al­most given up,” he said.

Go­ing it alone

Bobo couldn’t wait any longer. He needed a place of his own.

So late last month, he made a risky cal­cu­la­tion: He would give up his voucher and try to make rent by him­self.

“I can’t con­tinue to search and look,” he said. “I feel like I’m in­vest­ing too much time and money . ... It’s not worth it.”

He said he de­cided to move into a two-bed­room apart­ment in Far North Dal­las, near Spring Val­ley Road and the toll­way, where he will pay full price for rent. He had lived at the com­plex once be­fore, but moved out when it stopped tak­ing vouch­ers.

His new rent — $1,135 a month — will eat up more than half his pay­check, he said. That’s more than ex­perts rec­om­mend. He will have to re­think his bud­get and give up his dream of own­ing a home, at least for now.

Be­cause when Bobo looks at his voucher these days, he said he no longer sees a path out of poverty. “This is a piece of pa­per that’s ba­si­cally worth­less right now.”

Andy Ja­cob­sohn/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Robin Bobo stands in the kitchen of his Richard­son condo, which he was able to af­ford with the help of a Sec­tion 8 hous­ing voucher be­fore he had to move out.

Rex C. Curr>/Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.