Cost just one hurdle facing low-income housing

HUDSON–Finding and sometimes keeping a place to live in Columbia County is not easy for people with limited income–with or without assistance, whether in the open market or in income-restricted buildings,

That’s what local activists and service providers told Dale-Ann Brown, state program director for Section 8 Housing at a meeting in Hudson October 16.

“There are more people looking than there are places,” said Fawn Potash, a New York Connects Specialist at the Independent Living Center of the Hudson Valley. She co-hosted the October 16 meeting with Geraldine Adams of Catholic Charities.

In addition to the cost of rent, many landlords do not want tenants on assistance. Disabilities that require accommodation further limit the apartment pool. Some people would share apartments with friends and relatives, but many leases do not let households take on extra members.

“People coming up from New York City” are enabling landlords to get away with “charging astronomical amounts,” Ms. Brown said.

The federal Section 8 program gives rent vouchers to qualifying low-income households. But “sometimes with a voucher, the only option is slumlord conditions,” said Hudson Alderwoman Tiffany Garriga (2nd Ward).

One landlord of many affordable—and reputedly substandard–apartments is seeking to sell off his property, according to meeting participants, and many of his buildings display the signs of a county real estate agency. Ms. Garriga urged the meeting to contact the agency, “before they start kicking the tenants out.”

“What can be done to incentivize landlords to accept Section 8?” asked Rebecca Wolff of Affordable Housing Hudson. Some landlords worry voucher tenants will damage their buildings, Ms. Brown said. “I tell the tenant to have the landlord call me.”

Another problem is that while disabled people have priority on the waiting list for Section 8 vouchers and once they get a voucher they are given extra time to find an apartment, Ms. Potash said she has clients in wheelchairs who have been on the waiting list for years. In one case a person’s request for an additional bedroom for medical equipment was turned down.

For some people, the only solution seems to be sharing housing with willing hosts. “I think there are a lot of people living on other people’s couches,” said Ms. Potash. But if a host occupies a rental-assistance or an income-restricted unit, adding people can jeopardize the host’s chances of keeping his or her apartment.

Ms. Garriga cited Bliss Tower, the public low-income high rise apartment building in Hudson. “There have been people in Bliss who want to invite their homeless child to live with them but will be considered living with someone extra, which violates their lease,” she said.

“My daughter lives in Albany on the street,” said a resident of another income-restricted complex. “Her son doesn’t want to go to Albany schools, so he lives with me. And I’m afraid of being evicted, even though I’ve lived in there 18 years and have a perfect credit record.”

“We have clients add and remove people all the time,” said Ms. Brown. “If your apartment gets more people than are allowed, you have a whole year to move.”

Meanwhile, homeless people need addresses to apply for permanent housing. “We have a lot of applicants who use the Department of Social Services (DSS) address,” said Ms. Brown.

But Ms. Potash responded, “I know somebody who was turned down because their last address wasn’t a residence.”

In these cases, the DSS tells homeless people they can use the address of friends or relatives, Ms. Garriga said.

“A man got evicted because he let his homeless cousin, who had just gotten out of jail, use his address,” a resident said. “My landlord checks the mail box. He goes with the mailman and sees the name of each person addressed to each apartment.”

Other challenges to keeping apartments include rent increases, substandard conditions and problems with landlords.

The requirements for a Section 8 recipient to renew an apartment lease after the first year are less stringent than those for getting the apartment, said Ms. Brown. After a year under Section 8, rents can rise, but many landlords “have been pretty fair. If the increase stays within a standard guideline, the voucher will pay for it. Otherwise, the tenant must pay the excess.” Provided the tenant receives income, 40% of the income can be used to cover the rent increase. If the income can’t cover the increase, the tenant might have to move.

“That’s inconsistent with the goal of helping people settle down, if a tenant has to move every year because the landlord raises the rent,” a person at the meeting said.

But that happens very rarely, said Ms. Brown. Usually a solution is worked out.

In the case where an apartment develops a problem, tenants said some landlords have the attitude: “I’m not going to fix this because it costs too much. The tenants can move,” said Ms. Potash.

“What if a tenant gets evicted because he spoke up?” asked Ms. Garriga. “Sometimes a landlord doesn’t keep an apartment in good repair, and a tenant gets evicted for complaining.” Does that tenant get put on an evictee list, which makes him less desirable to both future landlords and public assistance programs?

“When tenants have problems with their landlord, sometimes they call us,” said Ms. Brown. “I tell tenants not to damage property, not to take in extra people, and to pay their rent on time. Landlords don’t want to go through the eviction process; they don’t want to pay court fees. We advise some tenants to move out before formal eviction.”

(This is the first of a two-part report.)

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