Land­lords re­ject Sec­tion 8 ten­ants

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION&WORLD - By Glenn Thrush

PHILADEL­PHIA — One morn­ing last year, Michele Carter woke up to find an evic­tion no­tice slipped un­der her apart­ment door. She had to move, she was later told, to make way for the ren­o­va­tion of her high-rise and the high­er­pay­ing ten­ants it would bring.

Carter, 66, an Air Force vet­eran who lives on a small monthly dis­abil­ity check, did not panic, at least not at first. She con­sid­ered her­self one of the lucky hand­ful of her build­ing’s ten­ants who had what they called a “golden lottery ticket” — a voucher from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s Sec­tion 8 hous­ing pro­gram that would al­low them to move any­where in Philadel­phia with a guar­an­teed sub­sidy pay­ing 70 per­cent of the rent.

But she quickly dis­cov­ered that her Sec­tion 8 voucher, for decades an es­sen­tial way of pro­vid­ing low-in­come peo­ple with af­ford­able hous­ing, had di­min­ish­ing value.

“I saw this flyer for an apart­ment up on the wall in the build­ing. It looked per­fect. Then I get to the bot­tom, and in big black let­ters was writ­ten, ‘No Vouch­ers,’ ” said Carter, who ended up mov­ing in with rel­a­tives for 13 months be­fore be­ing placed in a se­nior sup­port­ive liv­ing com­plex this year.

A sur­vey by the non­par­ti­san Ur­ban In­sti­tute, com­mis­sioned by the De­part­ment of Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment and re­leased in Au­gust, doc­u­mented the prob­lem in stark terms. It found that 67 per­cent of Philadel­phia’s land­lords re­fused to even con­sider voucher hold­ers, some can­didly cit­ing the low sub­si­dies and their de­sire to cash in on a hot mar­ket. The re­jec­tion rates were even higher in Fort Worth, Texas, and Los An­ge­les, where three-quar­ters of land­lords turned away Sec­tion 8 ten­ants.

“It is a cri­sis,” said Rasheedah Phillips, manag­ing at­tor­ney at Com­mu­nity Le­gal Ser­vices of Philadel­phia’s hous­ing unit, which de­fends ten­ants in court. “It used to be that Sec­tion 8 was ba­si­cally a guar­an­tee of shel­ter for fam­i­lies, for the el­derly, for dis­abled peo­ple, but now it’s be­com­ing much harder for ten­ants to get land­lords to take the vouch­ers. And it’s only get­ting worse as the mar­ket heats up.”

While par­tic­i­pa­tion in Sec­tion 8 is vol­un­tary for land­lords, many states, in­clud­ing Penn­syl­va­nia, have “source of in­come” laws that make it il­le­gal to dis­crim­i­nate against ten­ants based on whether they pay with a voucher or cash. But such cases are hard to prove and time­con­sum­ing.

In nor­mal times, Sec­tion 8 is a re­li­able source of in­come for land­lords in low-in­come neigh­bor­hoods — and in down mar­kets, own­ers of­ten com­pete for such ten­ants. That cal­cu­la­tion has flipped in many cities.

“This is a lottery ticket for most low-in­come peo­ple,” said Mary K. Cun­ning­ham, an Ur­ban In­sti­tute vice pres­i­dent who worked on the study. “They have been wait­ing prob­a­bly years to get their voucher and are think­ing, ‘Wow! Now I can get an apart­ment!’ and they don’t re­al­ize how dif­fi­cult it will be to get a land­lord to rent to them.”

Ben Car­son, the Hous­ing and Ur­ban De­vel­op­ment sec­re­tary, who has been sharply crit­i­cized for fail­ing to re­spond to a hous­ing af­ford­abil­ity cri­sis, has con­vened a task force on the is­sues with Sec­tion 8. Over the next sev­eral months, he plans to meet with land­lords in Philadel­phia and other cities to dis­cuss ways to make the pro­gram more at­trac­tive.

“We’ll be trav­el­ing the coun­try to hear di­rectly from land­lords and prop­erty man­agers about how we can make the voucher pro­gram more ac­ces­si­ble and ac­cept­able,” Car­son said in an email last month. “What we hear will help guide us as we look to make changes and im­prove the like­li­hood that land­lords say yes to voucher hold­ers.”

Car­son is con­sid­er­ing a num­ber of re­forms, in­clud­ing in­creas­ing tech­ni­cal as­sis­tance to hous­ing author­i­ties in­tended to stream­line the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion process and to speed pay­ments to land­lords, ac­cord­ing to three of­fi­cials familiar with his plans.

He is also mulling a plan that could ease some in­spec­tion re­quire­ments for prop­er­ties in the pro­gram, a move that would be likely to prompt le­gal op­po­si­tion from lawyers for poor ten­ants.

But Car­son pub­licly sup­ported a bud­get plan by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump last year that would have slashed the voucher pro­gram by $841 mil­lion. Even­tu­ally, the Se­nate re­stored the cuts, adding $1.7 bil­lion to the pro­gram, of­fi­cially known as hous­ing choice vouch­ers.

Those restora­tions are likely to have a min­i­mal im­pact, es­pe­cially as lo­cal­i­ties are spend­ing more to keep lower-end hous­ing stock from fall­ing into dis­re­pair. “The $1.7 bil­lion na­tion­ally could eas­ily be eaten up in Philadel­phia,” Jeremiah, the hous­ing author­ity pres­i­dent, said. “We need $1.5 bil­lion to pre­serve the hous­ing we al­ready have.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.