Michael Bobbitt: Federal Rental Assistance Programs in Henderson and Vance County

As a reminder, this inquiry into our county’s and city’s “Section 8” housing started with a request from mingo and Elmwood.  Before starting my inquiry I posted six questions that I would seek answers and mingo added a question about inspections. 

Several weeks ago our intrepid editor submitted a list of eight suggestions for the County Commissioner’s to consider during their annual retreat.  One of those suggestions was to establish a county housing authority.  At the annual retreat a summary of the County’s budget was handed out.  I scanned down that summary and stumbled upon an entry titled Housing Authority.  So that is where I started my inquiry of subsidized housing; first a little history of our Federal rental assistance program.

In 1937 Congress passed the Housing Act of 1937, which was codified as 42 USC and titled The Public Health and Welfare.  The Housing Act of 1937 was started to help with the housing shortage during the Depression years by paying subsidies to local housing authorities for low income families.  The Act is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  HUD has three Federal rental assistance programs: Public Housing, Housing Choice Voucher Programs (Section 8), and Privately owned subsidized housing.  Our fair county and city has all three Federal rental assistance programs. 

Public Housing:

The Vance County Housing Authority is a non-profit entity managing the County’s only public housing project, Lincoln Heights.  At Lincoln Heights there are 75 two or three bedroom apartments with about 200 residences.  Currently there are no openings and there is a waiting list for apartments.  Lincoln Heights serves families who have minimal financial means, the elderly, and persons with disabilities.  Rental assistance at Lincoln Heights is based on family income and may include subsidized utilities.  The Housing Authority’s staff of a staff of three full time employees and one part time employee exclusively manage the tenants’ needs and maintain the buildings and grounds of Lincoln Heights. 

Housing Choice Voucher Programs (Section 8):

Franklin, Vance, Warren Opportunity, Inc is a non-profit corporation providing Section 8 rental assistance as defined by HUD.  FVW does not own any housing and does not provide landlord referrals.  FVW does arrange tenant based housing based on HUD’s choice vouchers program.  “The housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.  The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.”  (http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/housing_choice_voucher_program_section_8)

Currently the FVW is managing 272 vouchers in Vance County (includes the city).  Vouchers do not equate to a home or apartment; vouchers do equate to the taxpayers’ money HUD has allocated for individuals or families living in Vance County.  Currently about 250 individual houses and apartments are occupied by individuals or families eligible for Section 8 rental assistance.  

Private for profit rental assistance:

Privately owned subsidized housing is the for profit segment of subsidized housing.  HUD helps property owners to offer reduced rents to low-income tenants using taxpayers’ money to pay the for profit property owners all or part of the rent.  Using an iceberg to visualize our County’s subsidized housing programs the Lincoln Heights and FVW are the visible parts.  Privately owned subsidized housing is the invisible part.  How many privately owned houses and apartments where the landlord benefits from HUD subsidized housing is not an easy number to ascertain, because the property is privately owned.  Of the eight subsidized apartment complexes only one (12.5%) is non-profit, the other seven (87.5%) are for profit.  According to public data there are fourteen area landlords and real estate agents dealing with privately owned subsidized housing.  Two of the fourteen landlords or real estate agents are County Commissioners.  I don’t know how many City Council members.

The big question mingo asked I am unable to answer except for the non-profit side of subsidized housing.  What became obvious to me researching this topic is why economic development is illusive to Vance County.  Economic development bringing improved wages to our area is a real monetary detriment to the private owners of subsidized housing.  

For the six questions I sought an answer:

Questions 1, 2, & 3.  (How many, types, minimum and maximum)

There is an upper limit to public housing and Section 8 rental assistance.  There does not appear to be an upper limit for privately owned for profit subsidized housing.  FVW does not have vouchers for boarding houses or hotel rooms; privately owned subsidized housing may.

Question 4.  (concentration of housing)

Lincoln Heights and the seven other subsidized apartments are by definition the only housing units concentrated in a neighborhood.  Vouchers from FVW go to the prospective tenant who can apply the voucher where ever the landlord accepts them.  Privately owned subsidized housing, well if birds of a feather do flock together, maybe those owners do likewise. 

Question 5.  (Converting a home or apartment)

To convert your house in Happy Valley to subsidized housing contact HUD for the application.  Among the minimal requirements is a heating system, air conditioning is optional.

Question 6.  (Eligibility)

Eligibility requirements for public housing, the Section 8 voucher program, and privately owned subsidized housing is income based.  High incomes prevent eligibility to either.  Rent at the privately owned subsidized housing is whatever the owner has agreed with HUD plus whatever the owner can add on.  

The bonus question offered by mingo, inspections.  Lincoln Heights apartments are inspected when tenants change and annually, also grounds are cleaned daily.  FVW annually inspects the properties leased to voucher holders making certain the property is compliant to HUD requirements.  Privately owned subsidized housing, well if you recall the New Direction repealed Certificates of Occupancy removing any local regulatory inspection of rental properties including those where the owner benefits from Federal rental assistance.  

Companies that provide subsidized housing

Through some of the above various programs, if a renter uses a private rental company, they must go through one of the approved rental companies to qualify for the subsidy help.  The list of companies are in this document:  20130218_subsidized_housing_companies

Michael Bobbitt