Officials confirm reserved housing vouchers; aim to hold back more

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A U-Haul truck sits outside a building at Joann Dorsey Homes apartment complex on Sept. 1, 2011. Dozens of residents moved from the property as part of a redevelopment plan from the Housing Authority of Champaign County. The property has since been demolished. Housing authority officials have confirmed that they are holding dozens of housing vouchers in reserve for redevelopment projects that include Dorsey Homes. Housing advocates say that the vouchers should be distributed now to assist the more than 400 families on a waiting list for housing assistance.

By Robert Holly/ – 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.

Edward Bland, executive director of the Housing Authority, said that the number of reserve vouchers currently in holding is 233, confirming a number provided earlier this month by Tonya Crawley, director of the housing choice voucher program.

Though the authority has given various estimates of the number needed to reserve, he said that 319 total reserve vouchers will be needed for the Dunbar, Dorsey, Douglas, Urban Park Place and Oakwood Trace redevelopment projects.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded enough funding to the Housing Authority to finance 1,706 vouchers and, in an interview, Crawley said that only about 1,500 vouchers had been issued.

Other members of the community also raised objections to the holding back of vouchers.

“(Holding back vouchers) is crazy to me,” said community member Martel Miller.  “Plenty of times people have called me for housing, and I’ve called Ed Bland and he said he don’t have any vouchers. ‘Ain’t no way he can get vouchers.’ Now I find that he got 200 vouchers.”

Grant Henry, who was nominated without opposition as vice chairperson of the Housing Authority board, proposed adding the matter to the board’s agenda, as well as a proposed amendment to the voucher allocation process.

He said that the amendment was “buried in the document library” and that he wants information to be displayed easily, not hidden, and more visible to the public.

Earlier this month, the Housing Authority issued a public notice of its intent to amend how vouchers are awarded to incorporate a new way of giving preferences.  With the change, some applicants will be selected from the waiting list in order of the number of “points” they get.

The notice states that “applicants that are involuntarily displaced from their permanent residence by a Federal, State or local governmental action” will be awarded preference.

Adding items to the official agenda requires a majority board vote, but Margaret Neil, who was nominated without opposition to chairperson, was the only person in favor of Henry’s amendment and it did not pass.

The Housing Authority’s next regularly scheduled board meeting is Oct. 25.

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