Low income often depend on two federal programs for housing

Public housing authorities are responsible for supplying affordable homes to their community’s population of low-income residents. The Housing Authority of Champaign County’s mission statement, for example, is to provide “quality, safe and affordable housing to the citizens of Champaign County.”

To do so, authorities receive millions of dollars from HUD to build homes and create programs that will put poor people in affordable homes.

No vacancy: Getting on waiting lists for subsidized housing can take years

Linda Tortorelli recently faced the challenge of finding affordable housing for her 23-year-old son, Patrick, in Champaign. Her task was complicated by the fact Patrick has Smith-Magenis syndrome, a rare chromosomal condition that causes behavioral disorders.

Because her son qualified for government assistance under a federal housing voucher program, Tortorelli called the Housing Authority of Champaign County to seek a voucher that would allow him to live in an apartment of his own.

Evaluating Moving to Work program is difficult job

By Robert Holly/For CU-CitizenAccess

Officials at The Housing Authority of Champaign County are enthusiastic about the potential of the Moving to Work program, which gives it leeway on how to spend federal money and pushes residents to get jobs and education. But, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), watchdog for the U.S. Congress, criticized the program in 2011, saying housing officials have no effective way of measuring the program’s success. “In most cases, the practices chosen were based on the opinions of HUD or contracted staff and largely involved anecdotal (or qualitative) data rather than quantitative data,” the report said. The report also said the lack of evaluation methods based on hard data could impact the program’s ability to learn from its mistakes. Consequently, “It is limited in its ability to promote useful practices that could be implemented more broadly.”

To improve the program, which is overseen by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), GAO recommended that it improve reporting on its performance, develop a plan for analyzing data, set performance indicators and verify the accuracy of self-reported anecdotal information.

Jones building likely to be razed

By Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press editor

The owner of an apartment building between Thomasboro and Rantoul did not attend a meeting of the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals last week, clearing the way for the building to possibly be torn down. Rick Stone, president of K&S Property Management, Champaign, which owns the structure commonly called the Jones building, was not present, and the Zoning Board of Appeals dismissed the zoning request. Stone had asked that the property be rezoned from A-1 (agriculture) to R-4 (multi-family) so that the building could be renovated and again rented out to tenants. The building, which sits on a 1.5-acre tract, is located directly east of the also-closed Cherry Orchard apartment complex, next to U.S. 45. Stone evidently knew he would have a difficult time convincing the county to rezone the property because both the village of Rantoul and Rantoul Township had filed petitions of protest to the rezoning request.

Rezoning request still on agenda, but Rantoul, township oppose plan

By Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press Editor

A petition to rezone a closed apartment complex between Thomasboro and Rantoul remains on the agenda of the Champaign County Zoning Board of Appeals. John Hall, Champaign County director of planning and zoning, said a petition to rezone what is known as the Jones building and surrounding property, located directly east of the Cherry Orchard apartment complex, is an agenda item for the Thursday, Jan. 31, meeting. The building sits on a 1.5-acre tract. Rick Stone, owner of K&S Property Management, Champaign, which owns the Jones building, has petitioned for the property to be rezoned from A-1 (agriculture) to R-4 (multi-family).

Ramos remains at large in Champaign County case

By Dave Hinton/Rantoul Press Editor

The whereabouts of a caretaker of an apartment complex between Rantoul and Thomasboro is still unknown. Bernard Ramos, who with his father, Eduardo Ramos, had been caretaker of Cherry Orchard apartment complex, has been at large since last May when he was released by Washington, D.C., authorities. Ramos was arrested in early April by Washington, D.C., police on one civil contempt warrant and one criminal contempt warrant issued by Champaign County in 2010. When Ramos appeared at a hearing May 2 in Superior Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed the court that it was not yet in possession of papers required to extradite Ramos to Champaign County. The prosecutor asked for more time to obtain the papers, but the  judge denied the request and dismissed the case, clearing the way for Ramos to be released.

Housing authority chair brings insight to new role

By Robert Holly/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — Think positive, stay focused and take one day at a time. As a girl, those are the words Margaret Neil told herself when her mother passed away from a likely aneurism. They were the same words she vowed when staying strong for her son, who school teachers said stared out the window with tears in his eyes, after she was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at 27. And now, they are the words that guide her actions as the newly elected chairman of the Champaign County Housing Authority’s board of commissioners, a position Neil promises to approach with the same enthusiasm and fight as she lives her life. It is a promise those who are close to her believe she’ll keep.

Housing authority to discuss preference plan

By Robert Holly/For CU-CitizenAccess.org — For more than a month, community members have waited for the Housing Authority of Champaign County’s board of commissioners to reach a decision on Resolution 2012-27. The resolution proposes to rank applicants on the waiting list for housing vouchers on preferences in addition to a random lottery. There are currently 400 low-income people on the waiting list for the vouchers that will assist them in paying for housing. A special session is tentatively scheduled for 1 p.m. on Nov. 8 to discuss it further, following a meeting in October where the board tabled the resolution.

Officials confirm reserved housing vouchers; aim to hold back more

By Robert Holly/CU-CitizenAccess.org – Community members told the Housing Authority of Champaign County this week that they felt it was wrong to reserve vouchers for planned redevelopment projects, while 400 families and individuals remain on a waiting list for those vouchers. Esther Patt, director of the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union, questioned why authority officials are holding onto vouchers when there are families who are in dire need of immediate assistance. “Last month alone, the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union was contacted by 41 households who were facing eviction because they cannot keep up with rent payments,” said Patt. Patt was among dozens of community members who attended Thursday’s Housing Authority board of commissioners’ meeting to express concerns about the reserved vouchers – as well as the city’s redevelopment plan for Bristol Park and the authority’s proposed plan to amend the way it distributes vouchers. Housing choice vouchers, also known as Section 8 housing assistance, are subsidized payments to landlords based on what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determines is the free market rent value.  The free market rent for a two-bedroom, Champaign County apartment in 2012 was $802.

Housing vouchers held on reserve raises questions among community members

By Robert Holly/CU-CitizenAccess — Several community members plan to voice concerns Thursday  over a set of housing vouchers that are being held in reserve while 400 low-income households are kept on a waiting list. The Housing Authority of Champaign County said earlier this month that it had 233 housing choice vouchers in reserve to provide assistance for those households displaced by redevelopment projects. Opponents say that giving preferential treatment to those displaced households would further postpone housing assistance for people who already can wait up to five years to get a voucher. But even with the reserve vouchers, more than 100 additional vouchers will be needed for those displaced by redevelopment projects, said Tonya Crawley, director of the housing choice voucher program for the authority. “We need 335 (vouchers),” Crawley said.