A place to call home: Voucher program helps low-income residents in Marietta
by Noreen Cochran
ncochran@mdjonline.com
October 28, 2012 02:02 AM | 6184 views | 6 6 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Frances Reece enjoys her two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment which she moved into on July 17.  Reece previously lived at the Fort Hill Homes in Marietta and received a rental voucher which allowed her to move as the low-income housing was set to be demolished. There are 3,174 Cobb households with Section 8 vouchers, paying landlords a total of nearly $22 million a year.<br>Staff/Laura Moon
Frances Reece enjoys her two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment which she moved into on July 17. Reece previously lived at the Fort Hill Homes in Marietta and received a rental voucher which allowed her to move as the low-income housing was set to be demolished. There are 3,174 Cobb households with Section 8 vouchers, paying landlords a total of nearly $22 million a year.
Staff/Laura Moon
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MARIETTA — Government assistance for low-income tenants has shifted in the past 38 years from public housing to private homes through the $16 billion U.S. Housing and Urban Development program called the Housing Choice Voucher Program.

“Assisted families may lease in apartments, single-family homes, duplexes, town homes, condos, high-rises, assisted-living facilities and mobile homes,” said Daphne Bradwell, who manages the program — also known as Section 8 — for the city of Marietta. “It’s their choice.”

Vouchers, or three-page contracts, are like discount tickets guaranteeing an individual will pay no more than one-third of his or her monthly income for rent. The balance of the market-rate rent comes from federal dollars.

“Families contribute approximately 30 percent of their monthly adjusted income toward rent to the landlord,” Bradwell said.

There are 3,174 Cobb households with Section 8 vouchers, paying landlords a total of nearly $22 million a year.

However, only one-fifth of the clients, or 645, are city clients, served by nine staff members.

The remaining four-fifths, or 2,529, are served by the Marietta Housing Authority, with a 13-person staff earning $1.2 million a year.

“Both applied for and were awarded grants to administer the Housing Choice Voucher Program,” Bradwell said.

The authority’s executive director, Ray Buday, said it is rare to have dual local coverage of the program.

“I believe that — with the possible exception of some arm of the city government in Atlanta — (Marietta) is the only city in Georgia operating a Section 8 program,” he said.

They do connect on certain fronts, Bradwell said.

“Each works independently and reports to the federal government, but shares information on internal operations such as establishing payment standards,” Bradwell said about the maximum rent the program will subsidize.

Buday agreed.

“The main point of cooperation is in the operation of our respective Family Self Sufficiency programs, in which selected Section 8 participants seek to improve their situations to the point of ending dependence on subsidized housing,” he said.

Joe Dendy, chair of the Cobb County GOP, said he approves of government assistance on a temporary basis until an applicant is back on his or her economic feet.

“Unfortunately, government assistance often becomes a crutch that discourages someone picking themselves up and improving their situation,” he said. “Dependency on government assistance has a tendency to become generational.”

Geographically, clients are scattered throughout the county and within communities containing Section 8 and non-Section 8 families.

Dendy said the policy can end generational dependence.

“The children of Section 8 families have the influence of neighbors that go to work in the mornings and who work hard to get ahead in life,” he said.

Each agency serves residents within both city and county limits. Bradwell said the county/city split is roughly 80/20.

Buday said his agency’s jurisdiction is the city limits and 10 miles beyond.

“(That) pretty much takes in Cobb County,” Buday said. “Thus, there is no geographical division.”

The authority has clients who rent in all the Cobb County cities, with the highest concentrations — 257 and 239 units, respectively — in the 30060 and 30008 Marietta ZIP codes.

By contrast, the lowest numbers of units rented are in the 30068 and 30066 ZIP codes of east Cobb, at 13 and 21, respectively.

Property owners can apply to become Section 8 landlords.

The city and authority have their own contracts with landlords, but some serve both entities.

Caswyck Trail rents 51 units to clients, for a total of $293,571 a year; Highland Ridge, 35, for $243,240; Legacy at Walton Village, 66, for $290,340; Pointes of Marietta, 32, $229,663; Rosewood Park, 37, $301,525; and Wingate Falls, 30, $191,269.

Frances M. Reece, 82, is a client of the authority, which helped place her at a multifamily community near Dobbins Air Reserve Base after 40 years in the Fort Hill public housing development, where the last tenant will move out today.

“I’ve got plenty of room. I’ve got enough room for each and every thing,” Reece said about the two-bedroom apartment she moved into July 17.

The great-great-grandmother, the subject of a June 15 resolution from District 33 State Rep. David Wilkerson, said she always admired the neighborhood.

“My daughter Cynthia lived here a long time ago,” Reece said. “I always liked this place. I said, if I ever have to move from Fort Hill, I’m moving to Garrison Plantation.”

Of the 120 families getting public assistance at Fort Hill, 107 have received Section 8 vouchers.

Because they were relocated, they are eligible for the program as long as they do not make more than $38,850 per year, or 80 percent of the Cobb County median income.

As a former Fort Hill resident, Reece, whose rent and circumstances under which she applied for assistance cannot be disclosed for privacy reasons, will not pay more than $971.25 a month, or 30 percent of that $38,850 ceiling.

Income limits range from $14,600 for one person to $73,200 for eight persons; other factors taken into consideration are income deductions and rent amount.

According to the HUD website, the family is “expected to comply with the lease and the program requirements, pay its share of rent on time, maintain the unit in good condition and notify the (public housing authority) of any changes in income or family composition.”

Landlords have their own set of obligations.

“The role of the landlord in the voucher program is to provide decent, safe, and sanitary housing to a tenant at a reasonable rent,” the HUD website said. “The dwelling unit must pass the program’s housing quality standards and be maintained up to those standards as long as the owner receives housing assistance payments.”

Buday said it is a system in which the majority of participants adhere to the standards.

“The great majority of landlords and tenants in our … program live up to their obligations. Occasionally, however, we get a report that a Section 8 unit is in disrepair or that the occupant family is misbehaving,” he said in a Nov. 21, 2005, letter to the mayors of Cobb County cities.

Bradwell said having a variety of housing options gets away from the stigma of branding one area as low-income.

“There are no ‘Section 8 neighborhoods.’ Assisted families are mingled into communities throughout the county,” she said. “Assisted families do not necessarily impact a neighborhood.”

Buday said the benefits can last indefinitely but may also require infinite patience.

“With the demand for affordable housing being so large, our waiting list is long and is closed to new applicants,” he said. “We would estimate that the time between getting on the waiting list and the time when a voucher is awarded is many years, unfortunately.”

The last time the authority waiting list was open was Sept. 3 through 4, 2008; for the city of Marietta, it was Feb. 5, 2010.

For former Marietta resident Tanisha Bridges, who applied to the city, enough was finally enough and she and her two children moved to Denver, Colo.

“I have been on the Section 8 waiting list for three years now and I am still No. 2,715,” said Bridges, who has a job as a caregiver and no longer requires housing assistance.

Oddly enough, Bridges’ number used to be 1,482.

“I got bumped down the list,” she said. “I have no clue (why).”

Had Bridges received a Section 8 voucher, its portability clause means it would have gone with her to Denver.

“That is a needlessly exasperating process,” Buday said. “When a voucher holder takes their voucher elsewhere, their voucher is then administered by whatever housing authority operates where they intend to live. That housing authority must fund the payments to the landlord and then must ‘bill’ us because we — not they — have the funding for that voucher.”

The paper trail and attendant confusion — sometimes the two Marietta agencies get each other’s checks — has a simple solution, Buday said.

“Congress needs to fix this unwieldy process, and the solution is easy: When a voucher holder moves — say, from New Jersey to Marietta — the money ought to follow,” he said.

Dendy also has a suggestion on how best to help low-income families.

“We believe in improving the private sector of our economy where the majority of good jobs are created, thus making it possible for all people to succeed,” he said about the GOP, compared to Democrats. “We do not believe in continuously providing government assistance one generation after another. This philosophy is the major contributor of the economic mess we are in today.”
Comments
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Look into HCVP
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October 30, 2012
What was not talked about in the article is all the fraudulent activity that takes place within the Housing Choice Voucher Program and programs like it. People being removed from the waitlist unjustly, landlords being paid three and four times over by the Director, payments still being made on deceased tenants, tenants being removed from the program only because the person in charge says so, documents being forged and shredded, made up accounting numbers so the funding appears to not have been misappropriated. These are things that need to be discussed. Not the voucher count and the radius the two programs cover.

The bigger picture is accountability and self-sufficiency, but no one ever stops to think who needs to be held accountable and who is actually self-sufficient. The easy answer is the tenants, the low-income people, need to be held accountable but the truth of the matter is they are just ponds of a larger broken system much like most of the middle class. There is no accountability for ANY decision makers, from the bottom with Director at the City Daphne Bradwell to the top with Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan. There is a lot responsibility unaccounted for. And many of us of today are one or two checks, or a medical issue, or a natural disaster away from needing assistance too. Section 8 carries a negative contention, which was earned, but is not necessarily true. Everybody needs help. How much and what kind is determined on an individual basis. In this day in time, self-sufficiency could end overnight.

I would say look deeper at the situation. At the problem. If you are concerned about tax payers’ dollars demand to see the books. This is all public information. Demand to see how and where the money is being spent. Go to the City Mayors office, call HUD, voice your concerns. I agree that something has got to change. I just think in this case it may need to change from the top down instead of the other way around.

Former Landlord
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October 28, 2012
To accept a Section 8 tenant, you have to be crazy. The people who are not responsible enough to pay for their rent, who are not solid enough to have friends, relatives or church members take them in, or do not understand the value of sacrifice and the honor of self-sufficiency, are now your problem.

Note that any damage done to the property must be collected from your tenant and not this program. Frequently utilities are included the rental, paid by the landlord. Good luck there.

All efforts and stops should be made to find a rental that the tenant can afford without government help. I owned a 3 bedroom, 2 full bath, nice East Cobb home with a 2 car garage in a good school district and was deluged with calls from Section 8 people who felt this life subsidized by the government was their due. I would never consider them and loved all my tenants.
Bob Bummer
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October 29, 2012
Many landlords prefer Section 8 tenants because the rent check is made out to the landlord and the landlord knows that the check is pretty much a sure thing, plus the tenant never pays anything out of pocket. Most of these landlords own the property free and clear or are so well off that even if the property sat vacant their lifestyle would be unaffected. To put it another way: the wealthy individuals that cry so much about government handouts are sometimes the ones that end up depositing those government checks.
D.G. in Clarkdale
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October 28, 2012
After reading this story it just reenforces my belief that the "social safety net system" creates lifelong dependence on taxpayers and is seriously broken. Its all rather sickening, its no small wonder this country is bankrupt.
Southern Patriot
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October 28, 2012
Section 8 housing is nothing more than the Federal Government's method of redistributing the wealth, turning once respectable neighborhoods into housing projects filled with crime, gangs, prostitution and drugs. All at the expense of law abiding, tax paying citizens. For more of the same vote Democrat, vote Obama.
Bob Bummer
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October 28, 2012
The 2 section 8 programs in Cobb County need to combine and save the taxpayers money. Then the program should aim to get people off section 8 and end the program. The employers of these people can do their part by paying a living wage so the taxpayer does not have to subsidize their business.
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