I was looking through my external hard drive and found this story I wrote two years ago today:
GREENVILLE, N.C. – Earlier this year, Tonya, a single mother, was approved for housing assistance through the Greenville Housing Authority. With this assistance and her new job at Bojangles’, she hoped to move with her daughter from their small apartment behind Wal-Mart to a bigger place and a better neighborhood.
Greenville’s Housing Choice Voucher Program was made to assist lower income families like Tonya’s with obtaining affordable housing. Some tenants, however, feel that obstacles put in place by Greenville property owners and management companies limit recipients to specific neighborhoods or complexes. There are hundreds of available properties, but only a few dozen property owners are willing to rent to Section 8 recipients.
Tonya’s first choice was Cedar Creek, a complex close to the hospital, managed by Wainwright Property Management, LLC, but they wouldn’t accept her voucher. Her second choice was a townhouse a few blocks away from that one, but she got the same response. At other complexes in the area, she couldn’t meet the income requirements, and she finally settled on a place on the opposite side of town from her job, friends and family.
Arielle Hill, a friend who helped Tonya during her search, said she felt the apartment complexes could have done more to help.
“It seemed like they didn’t want to have her living there. They didn’t make it easy or suggest somewhere else she could go,” she said. “They basically just said ‘no,’ and that’s it.”
The consensus among property management companies, such as Wainwright and Remco East Inc., two of Greenville’s largest management companies, was that it was a property owner’s decision if a property would be made available for Section 8.
Most of the companies had a policy that said a person’s monthly income must be at least three to four times the rent to be approved for one of their apartments –– a policy that impacts mainly lower income families.
According to the 2009 federal poverty guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services, a family of three with a yearly income of $18,310, or $1,525 a month, is considered at poverty level. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau puts 7.8 percent of Greenville’s families below poverty level, or about one in 12.
Based on income requirements of many property management companies, most family-sized rental units would be unavailable to voucher recipients, even some of those above the poverty line.
Michael Best, deputy executive director of the Greenville Housing Authority, says the area median income is what qualifies people for the program or not.
“If a person is at 80 percent or below they are eligible,” he said. For the 27858 zip code, the median household income is $35, 227 per year, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. A family with an income of $28,181 per year or less would be eligible for Section 8 vouchers.
Brenden Thomas, a customer representative for Wilson Acres, said via their online messaging service, their properties in Greenville were available to voucher recipients, but they had to meet the basic requirements outlined by the application. These requirements included verifiable income, a good credit rating, no evictions or felonies and making at least three times the amount of rent, monthly. He said that space was limited even though the company’s Web site showed 10 openings between May and August of apartments or townhouses with two or more bedrooms.
At $629 per month for a two-bedroom floor plan, an applicant would need to make $1887 per month to meet the requirements — $22,644 per year — which is above poverty level but would qualify for the Section 8 voucher.
But for many apartments another obstacle –– the income requirement –– would rule out most people who receive assistance.
“Pretty much, that’s how landlords eliminate dealing with Section 8 participants,” Best said.
According to a leasing consultant for Wainwright, their company manages more than 2,000 apartment units in Greenville. To rent from Wainwright, an applicant must make at least four times the monthly rent.
Their rentals average $550 per month, putting most of their rentals out of reach for Section 8 applicants who would have to make $2,200 a month to meet the requirement.
Woodlands Apartments and Shiloh Drive Apartments are the only two apartment buildings Wainwright’s leasing consultant identified as Section 8 approved.
The apartments sit across from each other on Shiloh Drive and Tobacco Road. These are Wainwright Property Management’s “Section 8 ready” apartments, and according to Greenville Housing Authority records, this area is home to many Section 8 recipients.
Of the roughly 700 Section 8 tenants in Greenville Housing Authority records, about 10 percent live between these two roads –– the highest concentration of Section 8 tenants in Greenville.
“It’s the property owner’s decision if they will allow us to accept Section 8 or not,” the Wainwright leasing consultant explained.
Latrice Bronson, a leasing consultant for Remco East Inc. says Section 8 limits are what turn property owners off to the idea.
“Most of them know the option (of renting to voucher recipients) is there, but it’s really based on the cap. For some areas, Section 8 won’t pay out what the owners are looking to receive for rent,” Bronson said.
But Best says it is beneficial to property owners to rent to voucher recipients, because with the voucher program, owners are “pretty much guaranteed that money will be deposited into their checking or savings account,” eliminating the need for tracking down tenants for rent money at the beginning of the month.
“A lot of landlords are excited about that component,” he said.
The program also conducts annual inspections to make sure the tenants are maintaining the property.
Arthur Dellano owns multiple properties in Greenville and recently had a house for rent on Arlington Boulevard. He said he has no problem accepting Section 8 vouchers.
“I don’t discriminate. I’m a Christian,” Delano said. “I’ll rent to whoever comes to me first.”
He agrees with Best that getting rent money on time every month is a benefit to renting to Section 8 recipients, but said, “If someone needs housing, I’ll rent it to them.”
Tonya said she is happy where she ended up, and although it wasn’t her first choice, she is grateful for the program.
“She really just wanted to be in a better neighborhood, and it seems to have ended up good. It would just be better if there were more choices,” said Hill.
More choices may be on the way.
East Carolina University’s growth is one way housing options may be impacted in the future. Best says because so much more student-centered housing is being built in the city, more property owners are becoming open to the voucher program.
“A couple complexes on 10th Street, (that) I would never imagine I would see any Section 8 participants in, Section 8 participants are living in there, because students are moving out,” Best said.
For more information on Greenville’s Housing Choice Voucher Program and other housing assistance options visit http://www.ghanc.net.