March 23, 2012

The Housing Gap: Public housing needs

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The Housing Authority of Champaign County manages more than 440 public housing units and over 1,200 housing choice vouchers, according to the Champaign County regional housing study.

At the time of the December 2010 report, there were more than 700 households on a waiting list for assistance.

The housing choice vouchers, also known as Section 8 vouchers, are federally subsidized rental vouchers and allow recipients to move to any single-family rental with an available landlord.  About 90 percent of the vouchers in the county are clustered in Champaign and Urbana.

The report suggested that “deconcentrating the existing public housing and ensuring that new affordable housing is not concentrated in the area would be good ways to begin mitigating the real and perceived effects that come with concentrated poverty.”

The Danville Housing Authority manages nearly 540 public housing units along with 400 subsidized rental vouchers, according to a study released by the city of Danville last year.

Public housing is geared toward the lowest income residents, stated the Champaign county housing study.

Yet advocates believe that even public housing is becoming unaffordable.

Gloria Thompson-Brown is a longtime housing advocate in the Danville area.

She said waiting lists are part of the process when applying for public housing.

“And if they are called in for housing, the deposit could be a hindrance if they can’t come up with the money to pay the deposits,” Thompson-Brown said. “(The) 30 percent of income that’s placed on residents, sometimes that’s a little difficult.”

She said that public housing residents pay according to income. In 1969, Congress enacted the Brooke Amendment, which capped the amount of rent public housing residents paid to 25 percent of their income.

In the 1980s, the cap was changed to 30 percent of their income.

The changes, Thompson-Brown said, “made it not affordable because rent, if you’re making money in the working sector, your rent is just going to escalate and escalate until the residents are forced out because they can’t pay the rent that’s being charged.”

Kerri Spear is the neighborhood programs manager at the City of Champaign.

She said that those earning less than 30 percent of the median family income in the Champaign-Urbana area will find it “impossible” to pay for fair market rent.

Those that earn a little bit more or a living wage may be able to afford fair market rent but may find it hard to handle both everyday expenses and unexpected emergencies, Spear said.

“When we look at families that are earning 80 percent or the actual median (family income), we do expect that they’re able to pay,” she said. “So really, what we are going to be focusing on is that extremely low-income population that at no point can they afford fair market rent.”

The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that the disposition of public housing results in a loss of 10,000 homes annually.

According to the group, nearly 100,000 public housing units were disposed of between 2000 and 2008.

“This level of homes affordable to the lowest income people tears a big hole in the American safety net,” said Sheila Crowley, president and chief executive officer of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, in a February news release.