Focus On Section 8

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The CHAC Inc.’s Section 8 Housing Program is a rental assistance program which allows income-eligible households to rent housing on the private market.

The Section 8 program has given residents inside and outside of CHA a chance to move into more peaceful and cleaner surroundings. The only initiatives are bringing in documents and finding your own apartment. Some residents have found their dream apartment while others have come face to face with a living nightmare.

For instance, four properties on the North Side were terminated from the Section 8 program as of July 13. That’s $618,000 per year in federal funds that was issued to the slumlords for years but finally stopped by CHA and HUD. People were living in deplorable conditions.

CHAC Inc., the private company that manages the Section 8 program for CHA, stopped approving new Section 8 leases for those properties in February 1997, after a number of failed inspections. CHAC’s reports indicated serious code violations at the buildings, not to mention police calls surrounding gang and drug activity, roach and vermin infestation, broken appliances and fixtures and failed emergency items such as exposed wiring, gas and wire leaks.

Despite their warnings, when CHAC returned for follow-up inspections, they found little change.

Ald. Patrick O’Connor (40), in whose ward contains some of the properties, said at a July 8th press conference, “Let’s not allow bad landlords to continue to have good tenants to live in squalor. We will build places for people to live in but we should not allow people to live in squalor.”

Journey into the Section 8 Dimension

The horror stories are definitely out there. But I wanted to get the full story. So on a recent Wednesday afternoon, Kenneth Coles, ombudsman at CHAC Inc., and I walked through the recently-redecorated offices of the Section 8 program, 1000 S. Wabash Ave. I took the opportunity to interview a number of landlords and tenants.

Eloise Louis, a senior who lives at a CHA building at 2720 N. Sheffield, said, “I’ve been waiting close to 15 years. Today I’m here for my certificate. For the last four years, I’ve been living in senior housing but my apartment has no bathtub, only a shower.” Louis wants a bathtub. Seniors deserve to live as they see fit. Even disabled seniors should have the chance to soak in the tub.

While roaming the Section 8 office, I became aware that it was not just the tenants who was seeking some sort of information but landlords as well were being serviced.

Johnny Houston, a landlord who is involved in the Section 8 program, said, “I’m a good landlord waiting for good people to rent apartments to. Not just for a year or two but for years to come. I must be doing something right because I got the IHDA (Illinois Housing Development Authority) loan and I’ve been in the program for 8 years.”

Some people came with concerns about the Section 8 process. E.W. of Madden Park Homes conveyed her concerns about an apparent delay in the inspection of her chosen apartment. CHAC must complete an apartment inspection before a certificate-holder can move in. “I’m here to try and find out what’s taking so long for inspection. I can’t move until inspection is done. I’ve been waiting for two months.”

Truths

As Ken and I walked around the offices, he explained how and why Section 8 works. Ken began with a recent history lesson about what happened when CHAC, a private company, took over management of the Section 8 program from CHA. CHAC inherited a huge backlog on its waiting list and immediately began to cut it down.

“In December 1995, CHAC Inc. started with 47,000 names on the list. By Sept 2, 1996, 32,000 were purged from that list for non-compliance. Non-compliance that relates to inadequate income information, no birth certificates or social security cards or not responding to notification letters. The first three items are very important but people just don’t turn them in. 15,000 remained as of Sept. 2, 1996. Previously no one was called in off the waiting list. Yearly inspections were not done but we are doing a much better job now.”

By purging the waiting list, CHAC will be able to house all of the people on its old list by this August. With the old list virtually exhausted, CHA reopened its Section 8 waiting list for the first time since 1985. For two weeks, June 30 through July 17, CHAC accepted application for the 25,000 slots for families in need of affordable housing. The 25,000 lucky families will be randomly selected from the waiting list. On July 8, CHAC had collected 45,000 applications and distributed more than 100,000 forms.

Ken said CHAC has accomplished these tasks by enforcing the rules for both tenants and landlords.

“It’s not like we are here to stop people from getting subsidized but we do want the residents to realize they have responsibilities. Section 8 is not an entitlement program or anything like that. Tenants have to do what they are supposed to and landlords have to do what they are supposed to.

“On one hand, we’re terminating people for non-compliance and on the other, we are bringing people in off the waiting list.”

The Section 8 program is an entity of the federal government to help those who are financially impaired but want to live in decent and affordable housing outside the public housing sector. Both tenants and landlords have abused the program but Ken was confident those undesirables can be weeded out. CHA, HUD and Section 8 should not allow a few to spoil the livelihood of millions of people who can’t afford rent at market rate.

From my random surveys, I have determined that the program on the whole is effective. It has given people a chance to live where they can feel safe and secure. It has helped tenants by allowing them to pay just 30 percent of their income in rent while landlords have obtained a steady income while charging the federal government regular rent (I need to buy a building).

The Chicago Section 8 program pays out $9 million monthly in Housing Assistance Payments to nearly 10,000 landlords in Chicagoland. WOW! (I need to buy a building)

Both certificates and vouchers may now be used across the entire United States. Although there are certain expectations, a family now has the ability to move across the country as they see fit and continue to receive Section 8 rental assistance.

Fallacy

CHAC, Inc. can screen a family with respect to behavior or suitability.

Property owners are allowed to collect money to be applied to the last month’s rent.

Getting it straight

What gets me is when I’m attending a meeting at the LAC, or other places involving CHA residents, and Section 8 is mentioned. It never fails that someone in the crowd hollers out, “And that damn Section 8 is only good for two years. What you gonna do then when your two years is up? You know you can’t afford to pay $500 or $600 dollars for rent. The government must think we’re stupid.”

I’ve heard that rambling over and over again. Am I lying? So for you misinformed residents, keep reading.

I phoned Kenneth Coles and got the answer. “How long is the certificate good for?” I asked him.

“Technically speaking, a certificate is funded for two years. Congress has always renewed the funding. So as long as there’s a Section 8 program and Congress renews the funding, your certificate can last a lifetime. The portion that’s blind to the client is the renewal of funding.

“The only time it is not true is when you are coming on the program. You have 120 days to get housed. Once you are housed and your 120 days have elapsed, then your Section 8 certificate becomes active. The actual certificate has always been re-funded and renewed. As long as it’s a Section 8 program, (the certificate) is good.” Ken replied.

An Amusing Comment

What I found amusing is the comment made by CHA Chairman Edwin Eisendrath at the July 8 press conference relating to the Section 8 slumlords..

“The CHA is living up to its commitment to change and accountability by cracking down on landlords who get rich off of federal housing subsidies while their tenants live in slums,” Eisendrath said.

“The residents, taxpayers and surrounding communities deserve better than to pay for poor management or live in squalid conditions.”

Watch out CHA high-rise dwellers! The wrecking ball must be on the way because nine out of every 10 buildings is mismanaged and we do live in squalid conditions. And yes, former CHA landlords have gotten rich off the CHA tenants.

Whether he knows it or not, Edwin Eisendrath seem to have been relating to the patriarchy of the Chicago Housing Authority. The resemblance between Section 8 slumlords and the previous CHA administrators is uncanny.

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