Council hears presentation on Section 8 program

Daeke questions feasibility of number of Section 8 inspections

During the work session of the Henderson City Council on Monday evening, members heard a presentation by Franklin-Vance-Warren Opportunity Section 8 Director Sharon Sneed regarding the program that she administers.

According to Sneed, Section 8 is a rental assistance program that subsidizes rent from month to month based on income limits set by the federal government. Those limits increase each year, and there is a cap on rents.

Sneed told members that she tries to do assistance in Vance County because it is cheaper than Franklin County, which is considered more metropolitan. For example, the director said that a one bedroom apartment averages $479 in Vance as opposed to $715 in Franklin.

Sneed said that she administers 579 vouchers. Of those, 280 are served in Vance County. She estimated that half of those (140) are located in Henderson.

Council member Mary Emma Evans asked if people are moving to Henderson because it is easier to get on Section 8. Sneed responded that it is not “easier” in Vance, and that there is, in fact, a waiting list.

There are 615 applicants on the waiting list.

“It’s not like Vance County is a dumping ground,” Sneed said. “That’s a misconception that the public has.”

She also indicated that the voucher is completely portable and may be used anywhere a housing program is administered.

Evans asked if the group receiving assistance in diverse in terms of race. Sneed replied that recipients are predominantly African-American, with 20% white, 1% Native American, and 3% Hispanic.

Henderson Mayor Pete O’Geary asked if a background check is done on applicants. Sneed said that a background check and a sex offender check is done as required by the federal government.

Once awarded, a voucher is good for the lifetime of its holder.

Ward 1 member Bernard Alston said that there is a “habitability factor” involved, and that he thinks that is lost in conversations about Section 8. Sneed said that there is a housing quality standard, and that each house must meet the standards set by the government. She said a housing inspector is sent to check a dwelling before allowing a tenant to receive a subsidy at that house. She added that owners have to correct deficiencies before any contract with them is concluded.

Sneed told members that one inspection is done per year, and a special inspection can be done if, for example, a landlord does not correct a problem. A landlord may also request an inspection if the tenant is suspected of causing damage. However, all of the inspections done by FVW Opportunity are by law announced ahead of time.

Sneed admitted that there is only one inspector for all the Section 8 dwellings in Franklin, Vance, and Warren counties. She said that the inspector performs ten inspections per day. Items inspected include windows, doors, floors, locks, water, heat, electricity, stove, refrigerator, and outside hazards.

“It is a busy day for our inspector,” Sneed said.

FVW Opportunity was the majority inspecting agency for the former Beacon Light apartment complex. as the majority of tenants there were holders of Section 8 vouchers. The complex was condemned by the city in 2006 mainly due to water damage from a failed sewage system, and its tenants were relocated to other Section 8 housing units in Henderson and elsewhere.

Member Garry Daeke commented that the number of inspections “sounds like an extraordinary amount.” He noted later in the discussion that 519 inspections per year was the “pure minimum” number of inspections that FVW Opportunity’s inspector would have to perform.

In defense of the number of inspections conducted by the lone inspector, council member George Daye commented that the “inspector knows what he is looking for”.

Home in Henderson observed three inspections by Sneed and then part-time inspector William Sneed (Sharon Sneed’s father) on July 18, 2006. HiH was invited to observe the inspections in the wake of the closing of the Beacon Light apartment complex and the relocation of the tenants to other Section 8 dwellings in Henderson and elsewhere. It is this reporter’s recollection that the three inspections, all of which were located in the city of Henderson, took about two and a half hours, including transit time between two sites. Two of the inspected units were in the same building. HiH‘s photographic records of the inspections show that the first photograph was taken at 1:59 p.m. on July 18, 2006, which was after a half-hour interior inspection of the first dwelling, and the last photo was taken at 3:03 p.m. on the same date, before the interior inspection of the two last dwellings, with each interior inspection lasting approximately one-half hour.

Sneed told Daeke that they try to schedule inspections in close proximity to one another to minimize travel time. She said later in the discussion that she checks behind the inspector at random to assure quality control.

Member Lonnie Davis said that “a stigma can be placed on anything, especially when it involves poor people”. He said that there is a rumor that [Section 8 housing] is where criminals “habitate”. He asked Sneed how first-time serious offenders are dealt with. Sneed replied that there is a no-tolerance policy regarding drug-related crimes set by the federal government, and that if the voucher-holder or a family member is caught, they are terminated by the program.

Sneed said that there is a perception that [program participants] don’t want anything better. She said that most of the families currently on the program are employed.

Daeke noted that Section 8 vouchers can be turned into home ownership.