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Section 8 Council wants to keep it as is

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Category: Middletown City Government
Forum Name: City Council
Forum Description: Discuss individual members and council as a legislative body.
Printed Date: Jan 24 2020 at 7:26pm

Topic: Section 8 Council wants to keep it as is
Posted By: Pacman
Subject: Section 8 Council wants to keep it as is
Date Posted: Sep 26 2008 at 8:57pm
Per the MJ the options for Section 8 were as follows:

"• Continuing to contract with a third-party vendor to address the day to day administration and management of the Section 8 program. Currently, CONSOC Housing Consultants of Columbus has operated Middletown's $9.74 million program for more than 13 years and has been rated by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department as a high-performing agency.

• Bring the program in-house using city staff and employees to administer the program.

• Transfer the program to the Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority."

Both Marconi and Schiavone who are business owners in this community have taken this stance:

"Mark this down on the first page. Council is not going to turn this over to Butler Metro," said Councilman Tony Marconi.

"We're only looking at options 1 and 2," said Councilman David Schiavone, who chairs the subcommittee."

This will be one of the major nails in the coffin of Middletown.  This will continue the deragatory title of "Section 8 Capital of Butler County".  This will drive businesses out of Middletown and prevent new business coming into Middletown.  If we were talking of a reasonable number of Section 8 vounchers in the 200-400 range this would be fine.  But for two Community leaders who are business men to take this stance is unforgiveable when we have more section 8 housing than the whole of Butler County.

This is a sad, sad day for Middletown as its leaders continue to make disasterous decisions, which only hasten Middletowns decline.
The Council might as well fire the City Manager as they undermine her at every turn.

Posted By: spiderjohn
Date Posted: Sep 27 2008 at 8:58am
Your last paragraph say it all, pacman.
Schiavone and Marconi CAN be replaced next time out.
We must do so.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Sep 28 2008 at 8:33am

Only 2 Cities in Ohio, Parma and Middletown, Manage their own Section 8 Programs.  My contention is that Middletown's City Leaders are out of touch with the Majority of the Cities Population and its Business owners in its action on the Cities Section 8 dilemma.

A serious overabundance of Section 8 housing in a City such as Middletown has a trickle down effect.  It effects City Services.  It effects the Cities Education System.  It effects the Cities Economic future and its current Economic standing.  It is particularly disastrous to a City in Middletown's Financial situation that is trying to keep its head above water.
The actions of Schiavone and Marconi will have far reaching consequences for years to come and are detrimental to the City as a whole.  Unfortunately neither has explained their actions when it comes to their overwhelming approval of the current Section 8 situation in Middletown.  The Middletown Journal did not even bother to ask why they are so adamant in saddling the City with such a burden.
If we were talking of a reasonable number of vouchers for a City the size of Middletown in the 200-400 range we would not even be having this discussion and I as a business owner in Middletown would not be as concerned with this issue.  But when the numbers are so far out of balance and your City Leaders continue on in a manner which is detrimental to the City as a whole something needs to be done.
Marconi and Schiavone are no longer looking out for the welfare of the City.  For whatever reason they are putting a minority of residents above the well being of the City of Middletown as a whole and it is unfortunate that they as City Leaders and Business owners in this City continue to do this.
You have to ask yourself why does Butler Metro Housing, which services all of Butler County have approximately 960 vouchers, according to Mr. Kohler, and Middletown has 1663 vouchers?  Using Mr. Kohler's figure of 960 vouchers in Butler County, that means Butler County has 1 voucher for every 372 residents.  Why is Middletown's average over 12 times that number with 1 voucher for every 31 residents?  To put this is perspective New York City has 1 voucher for approximately every 80 Residents.  WHY MUST MIDDLETOWN CONSTANTLY DO WHAT IS NOT IN THE CITIES BEST INTEREST AS A WHOLE?
Folks there is something seriously wrong with this situation in Middletown.  The City leaders have let the Cities Section 8 Voucher program run unchecked for years and they can't even tell you how they got to this many vouchers.  The question is why do your City Leaders want to saddle Middletown with this program and stigma, when Butler and Warren County are willing to take all of these vouchers and administer the program, or at the very least give them 3/4's of the vouchers and reduce the Cities numbers to a figure more in line with it's population numbers in Butler County.
                                       Parma OH                                          Middletown
Area Covered                  20 Sq Miles                                       26 Sq Miles
Population                       80000                                               52000
Section 8 Vouchers          742                                                  1663
Vouchers per residents   1 Voucher for every 108 Res.        1 Voucher for every 31 Res.
Median Income                $43900                                            $36200 
State Ed Report               Passed 25 of 30                               Passed 5 of 30
AYP Met                            Yes                                                   NO
Performance Index           95.8                                                  80 

Posted By: VietVet
Date Posted: Sep 29 2008 at 7:49am
This topic sounds like a question to Marconi and Schiavone ( and the council as a whole) in the citizens comments during the next city council meeting. They won't answer the question as it is too "confrontational" but it will be satisfying just seeing them squirm and fidget around behind that desk. Always entertaining aren't they? This extra burden of Section 8 housing clients by this city must be done as a favor of some type to someone in Butler County or as a monetary incentive to some here in Middletown. It further damages this town's reputation as a low income/welfare community. Still don't understandthe reasoning/any positives from this program and see only headaches for the program's acceptance. Another reason to clean house next election.

Posted By: arwendt
Date Posted: Sep 29 2008 at 8:31am

Something is most certainly wrong with this picture.

Posted By: spiderjohn
Date Posted: Sep 30 2008 at 8:49am
Too much Section 8, contributing to low academic test scores, increased police activity and lower property values.
When combined with school performance, poor environmental stats(+ a new choke plant), dissolving retail options and lack of meaningful job opportunity, it doesn't paint the type of picture that will encourage new, mid/upper scale families to move into our area, do ya think?
Let it be controlled here, though let it be seriously scaled back proportionately.
City Council/admin must determine just who is calling these shots and why. Then that sector must be re-prioritized to scale back.
Does increased Section 8 vouchers lead to extra HUD and CDBG $$$ coming into town?
Has a disproportionate % of those funds gone to the S Main St. Hysterical District(where an increasing # of city employees are buying homes)?

Posted By: VietVet
Date Posted: Oct 06 2008 at 10:35am
Guess city council will revisit the Section 8 talk on Tuesday. Apparently, they still haven't decided what to do with this program. Marconi is the only one that I'm aware of that wants to keep it under the control of the city, right or wrong? They just can't seem to make a decision on anything, can they?

Posted By: VietVet
Date Posted: Oct 08 2008 at 6:46am
Section 8 will stay under the city's control because council wants to make sure Middletown residents are preferred for vouchers, making it more enticing for welfare type people to locate to town and become Middletown citizens, dragging the standard of living down, crime up and the city image down even further and attracting SOME who will never contribute to society in a positive manner. Amazingly, Armbruster says that we "have to have Section 8". Why, Mr. Armbruster, why????Give us a reason for that statement instead of just spouting a vague comment like that. Does the city make enough money to overcome the headaches this program presents? There must be a reason some of you want this in town. Are some of the "club" members making money on this at the expense of the image/quality of citizen/crime that this town attracts? WE DON"T WANT TO BE A WELFARE TOWN! What part of that don't you understand? Furthermore,concerning the third party contractor- if this city is so cash strapped, it doesn't make any sense at all to maintain this and search for bids to run it. It would be one item in the budget that council could eliminate. Why is the city taking on unneeded(and unwanted by the people) expenses like this while claiming to be cash poor? For cryin' out loud, make the correct decision for once in your lives! Get rid of Section 8 programming.

Posted By: John Beagle
Date Posted: Oct 08 2008 at 2:33pm
Section 8 housing is our catch 22.
Damned if we do, even more damned if we don't.

------------- - John Beagle
Middletown USA
News of, for and by the people of Middletown, Ohio.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 08 2008 at 3:15pm
John Section 8 doesn't have to be a Catch 22 for anyone.  It has to be managed which this Council and previous Councils and City employees have not been doing.  Middletown should have about 400 vouchers to be more inline with the percentage of Population it has over all in Butler County.
In todays Journal we have this:

"We have to have Section 8," said Vice Mayor Jim Armbruster. "There's a lot of aspects of this program that needs to be reviewed."

"Council members also were concerned about the way additional vouchers could get assigned by HUD to Middletown.

Councilman David Schiavone, who is chairman of the council's housing subcommittee, said a citizens housing committee is looking at this issue from a different perspective and will make a recommendation Oct. 31 to the subcommittee."

Now we have Council implying that HUD forced these vouchers on Middletown.  When it was clearly stated previously that Middletown kept requesting vouchers from HUD.  Why would HUD force additonal vouchers on a City which is already overburdened with Section 8 as it is.  This comment appears to be nothing more than Council looking for a scape goat for the situation we find ourselves in....courtesy of our supposed leaders.

I find it hard to believe that a Council made up of 3 businessmen and a Banker, and an Ex-Police Chief, can not see the damage that this much Section 8 has done and is doing to this City.  It is not the fact that we have Section 8 it is the fact that we have so much.  This is detrimental to the Cities image and future economic growth.
You need to look no farther John than Old Roosevelt Rd with its Section swath built a few years ago.  It constantly has couches, beds and other furniture out front that sits there for weeks and the city does nothing, yup the city needs to maintain control.....LOL.
Middletown has become known as the place to go for Section 8, I have been told this by numerous people in town and people who are on Section 8 themselves.
If Council thinks decisions such as this are going to improve Middletpwn they are sadly mistaken.  I will vote for none of the current Councilpersons just for this one issue.  Once again City Council has failed Middletown as a whole.....I guess we should not expect anything different from this bunch.
Middletown is Dead.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 08 2008 at 3:22pm

I say Gilleland for Mayor and get rid of the rest of the Council, at least she has Commonsense and forsight to see what is happening and is trying to take steps in the right direction.  But once again Council steps in and thwarts the Managers recommendation.

"City leaders have been evaluating the program for 10 months. City Manager Judy Gilleland recommended the program be transferred to BMHA, but City Council, concerned about losing local control to ensure Middletown residents are preferred over noncity residents for the vouchers, asked for additional options."

Posted By: John Beagle
Date Posted: Oct 09 2008 at 11:30am
I couldn't agree more. Anything we can offload to a county agency, we should. Middletown isn't rich anymore, yet we act like we are.

Gilleland for Dictator of Middletown.

------------- - John Beagle
Middletown USA
News of, for and by the people of Middletown, Ohio.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 09 2008 at 10:01pm
Section 8 is alive and well in Middletown even though Middletown's City Manager once again recommended turning the program over to Butler Metropolitan Housing.
Also during the last Council Meeting the Council hired Consultant recommended as his number one choice turning the program over to BMH also.  The question is why do we even have a City manager and why do we waste money on consultants when Council has already decided that it is going to maintain the status quo.  
By turning the program over to BMH the number of vouchers would not be reduced. No one currently on Section 8 would lose their voucher.  But by turning the program over to BMH any new Middletown Citizen would have to get on the waiting list with BMH, this would hopefully reduce the amount of Section 8 Housing in Middletown.  it would also reduce the number of people who move to Middletown to just be able to get Section 8 housing, as currently you must reside in Middletown to get a Middletown Section 8 voucher.
Now the main concerns of Middletown have been:
1) The Police and Courts want more control over Criminal background checks.
2)  Section 8 residents having to travel to Hamilton to see BMH.
3)  Preference is given to Middletown residents for a  Voucher in Middletown's program.
4)  Middletown wants control over housing inspections.
Now that being said:
1)   Middletown Police and Courts have stated that the system that BMH uses to screen applicants for vouchers using Sheriff Jones and Butler County Courts is excellent.
2)  BMH is willing to open an Office in Middletown to Service Middletown's Section 8 population.
3)  Middletown residents would have to get on the waiting list at BMH with the rest of Butler county, that is just the way it is and should be.
4)  Middletown could still maintain control of Housing Inspections. 
So we have 3 of Councils Concerns resolved with very little effort, yet they insist on maintaining this program.
Marconi is furious at Bloggers because they don't know what they are talking about.  Seems pretty straight forward from my position.  I have no problem with Section 8.  I have a problem with an overabundance of Section 8 as compared to our population in Butler County. I have a problem with a City Council that refuses to see that having this amount of Section 8 is damaging to the City overall. Moving the Section 8 to BMH will not hurt one person that is currently on the program, as once you have a voucher you have it for life or you no longer qualify.  Marconi also made the point that bloggers are blaming a significant portion of Middletowns woes on Section 8.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, but it is a contributing factor in a City which can not afford to even provide the basics of Road Repair and is struggling to provide even the basic services to maintainn a city financially, etc.
The average income of a Section 8 recipient is $7800.00 in Ohio.  We do not need to continue and attract an overabundance of low income residents. 
Quotes of the day for this meeting go to the clueless Ms Ford, who states, Landlords in Middletown's Section 8 program are a significant economical underpinning of Middletown.  Please.
And another jewel from her was , "be honest about who we are" I took this quote as very demeaning to the residents of Middletown and that we all should admit that we are just poor slobs who don't deserve a city that is vibrant and growing economically.
Becker and Armbruster seem to be open to reducing the number of Vouchers.  Mulligan was once again less than a leader and pretty much stood for nothing.  Schiavone and Ford would add more vouchers if they could was my impression and Marconi is  hot about the issue and especially the bloggers and just wants to maintain the status quo.  He wants to blame the previous Councils and City employees for the current number of vouchers yet he doesn't want to do anything to solve the situation.  Scott-Jones wants to maintain the status quo.  Ms Scott-Jones stated that compared to Middletown's population 1662 Vouchers is Minuscule.  For being so damn minuscule they sure make one hell of  big problem which will take years to fix.  Minuscule I don't think about 10% of the population is so minuscule.  It is unfortunate that Council can't put this much time and effort into the Major problems econcomic developement, etc.
It would appear to some that the number of Vouchers was increased so dramatically over the years because the City is Paid $56.00 per month per voucher in use to administer the program.  Now if you add that up that comes to about $1.1 million dollars a year to administer the program.  The city keeps a portion of that and the managing company gets part of those funds.
Overall the City needs to let go of this program and concentrate on growing the City economically.  Nothing is lost by giving this program to BMH other than the new residents would then have to be put on a waiting list with the rest of the county's residents to get a voucher.   If this is good enough for 99.99999999999% of the cities in Ohio why does Middletown have to be so different.  Lets do what is best for the City as a whole.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 13 2008 at 7:30am

Low-income rents, uneven demands

Section 8 brings opportunities, challenges to suburbs -

Posted By: Middletown News
Date Posted: Oct 13 2008 at 4:40pm
BMH is willing to open an Office in Middletown to Service Middletown's Section 8 population.
I say bring Butler On right now. Let the county handle this.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 31 2008 at 12:22pm

3-5 Year Strategic Plan

This document includes Narrative Responses to specific questions

that grantees of the Community Development Block Grant, HOME

Investment Partnership, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS

and Emergency Shelter Grants Programs must respond to in order to be compliant

with the Consolidated Planning Regulations. -

Posted By: .308
Date Posted: Oct 31 2008 at 2:20pm
No one is against throwing a drowning man a rope.
But we just must be careful that rope is not used to pull us under as well.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 31 2008 at 3:02pm
From the above Report:

"BMHA has a high vacancy rate due to the increase in Low Income Housing Tax Credit(LIHTC) developments in Middletown that are in direct competition for the Housing Authority. BMHA’s units don’t offer the same amenities as the LIHTC which is a direct result of the vacancy rate. BMHA in partnership with the City of Middletown and Butler County will offer assistance with security deposits. $10,000 of HOME funds will be set aside as a revolving loan fund administered by the Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority to decrease the vacancy rate by offering assistance to Low Income families that need housing but do not have the funds to pay the security deposit in order to move-in."

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 31 2008 at 3:09pm
"There is a lack of discourse between the Butler Metropolitan Housing Authority (BMHA) and the Middletown Housing Agency (MHA). There needs to be better communication and collaboration between the two entities. For instance, BMHA has units available in the Middletown area, yet MHA has a waiting list for those needing housing in Middletown. If a better working relationship existed between the two agencies, there would be less of a waiting list and more families in decent housing.  BMHA also needs to start working with various agencies countywide to better assist this population, of which it is starting to do.  In the regional Analysis of Fair Housing Impediments which was completed in 2004, it was solidified that all public housing was located within the two cities of Middletown and Hamilton and determined unconscionable that BMHA has not built any new units in the County. There are pockets throughout the county in which new public housing ventures should be explored."

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Oct 31 2008 at 3:15pm
No .308 there is no problem with a handup but when it is sinking the rest of the city that is a problem.
According to this report BMHA has 594 Public Assisted housing Units in Middletown on top of the 1662 Section 8 units Middletown has, see page 21.
This goes above and beyond what any City in Middletown's Condition should have to shoulder.  The Current Council has basically sealed the fate of Middletown with its actions and disregard for the City as a whole.

Posted By: .308
Date Posted: Oct 31 2008 at 3:32pm
Acording to the median household/condo value in Middletown is already $10,000 below the state average.
Enough is enough.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Nov 01 2008 at 6:27am
Hey Vet sounds like your meetings on the Road committee, Amburgey sure gets around since he is no longer being on council:
Let me help out the Committee:
Turn the program over to the profeassionals at BMHA, just as the City Manager has recommended, as the Cities Consultant has recommended.  But since City Council has not heeded those recommendations, the Citizens Committee has zero chance of Council listening to anything they have to say.  Read the report above.
Seems odd to put a Public Works Director in charge of Pubic Housing Assistance Program.
Is it 2009 yet, time to clean house on Council.
This is one issue which will end up tearing this city apart as I  have talked to numerous Business Owners in Middletown and they all agree that the current situation with Section 8 is out of control and that Council is not acting in the Cities best interest as a whole.

Citizens housing committee complains about lack of info

Committee delays recommendation on Section 8 program.

By - Ed Richter

Staff Writer

Saturday, November 01, 2008

MIDDLETOWN — The citizens housing committee was expected to give a recommendation on the city's Section 8 program to the Middletown City Council's Housing Subcommittee at its meeting Friday, Oct. 31, but decided it needed some more time, said Councilman David Schiavone, subcommittee chairman.

Also, Paul Renwick, chairman of the citizens committee, brought up the committee's concern about a lack of communication from the city administration. "We were told that we'll get to you when we get to you," Renwick said. "(The U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department) wants citizen participation and input."

Councilman Tony Marconi said some committee members felt they were not getting information in a timely manner. However, he and Schiavone pointed out that city staff is still working through a learning curve due to the recent reorganization of the city's departments.

"The bottom line is that we all want to make the city better," Marconi said. "I understand the frustration level on both sides ... but I thought it was a healthy discussion."

Chris Amburgey, a committee member and former councilman, said "we need total transparency of HUD funding" and appropriate follow-up.

Ginger Smith, community revitalization director — who said she is new to this field and is still learning — said the concerns are due to a miscommunication.

Posted By: Pacman
Date Posted: Nov 01 2008 at 7:11am
Let’s End Housing Vouchers
Howard Husock
javascript:Start1%28/html/sendtofriend.php?id=569&ru=/html/10_4_lets_end_housing.html&author=Howard%20Husock&date=Autumn%202000%29 -
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javascript:Start3%28/printable.php?id=569%29 -

Though crime-ridden high-rise projects are public housing policy's most abiding symbol, the majority of today's subsidized tenants don't live in them. Instead, 1.7 million households now get government vouchers that help pay their rent in the private market, at a cost of over $13 billion a year—a third of HUD's total budget. Liberals embrace these vouchers because they believe poor families can never afford decent market-rate housing; conservatives like the vouchers' ostensible free-market mechanism, which harnesses the private sector to serve a public goal. In Washington, the only question is how much to increase spending on the program. But out in the blue-collar and middle-class neighborhoods where voucher holders increasingly live, longtime residents hate the program. It undermines and destabilizes their communities by importing social problems into their midst, they say—vociferously enough to get the attention of local legislators. Though the program's supporters dismiss the critics (some of whom are black) as racists, they are nothing of the kind. And they are right.

In south suburban Chicago, with one of the highest concentrations of voucher holders in the country, middle-class African-American residents complain that they thought they'd left the ghetto behind—only to find that the federal government is subsidizing it to follow them. Vikkey Perez of Richton Park, Illinois, owner of Nubian Beauty Supply, fears that the small signs of disorder that have come with voucher tenants—the unmown lawns and shopping carts left in the street—could undermine the neighborhood. "Their life-style," she says, "doesn't blend with our suburban life-style." Kevin Moore, a hospital administrator and homeowner in nearby Hazelcrest, complains that children in voucher homes go unsupervised. Boom boxes play late at night. "I felt like I was back on the West Side," he says, referring to the Chicago ghetto where he grew up. "You have to remember how to act tough."

In South Philadelphia's Irish and Italian neighborhoods, which have seen an influx of voucher holders, elected officials report being inundated with constituent complaints—and watching white constituents move out of the neighborhood. The area's state representative, William Keller, describes how owners of row houses suddenly find that "the house next door is being rented to people whose kids are up all night, who are out in the street yelling 'M-F' this and 'M-F' that. It's like they're trying to find the worst people." The issue, he says, "isn't race; it's class."

In Maryland's Prince George's County, an area of the Washington, D.C., suburbs with a large concentration of middle-class black residents, hundreds of voucher tenants—many of whom come from Washington, since vouchers are portable from one jurisdiction to another—do not pay their utility bills or their required 30 percent share of the rent. "We're very concerned about the program," says Mary Lou McDonough of the Prince George's Housing Authority, which doles out the vouchers. The Authority is concerned about more than non-payment. Unlike most such agencies, it screens its voucher applicants, and it finds that some of the households have criminal records—including, recently, a murder conviction. Every year, the authority boots out 25 or 30 voucher holders for brand-new crimes, usually drug-related.

How could so politically popular a program become so fraught with trouble? The problem lies both in the program's underlying assumptions and its governing regulations. The idea began with Lyndon Johnson's Kaiser Commission on Urban Housing, which mistakenly believed that the private housing market couldn't provide the poor with decent homes they could afford, despite the fact that for much of the twentieth century it did so quite well. "The root of the problem in housing America's poor," the commissioners wrote, "is the gap between the price that private enterprise must receive and the price the poor can afford. The economic gap separating millions of deprived families from adequate housing can only be bridged by government subsidies. Such subsidies create an effective and real market demand to which private enterprise has proved it will respond."

Accepting this rationale, the Nixon administration, stung by scandals and cost overruns in federally subsidized housing construction, proposed the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974, whose Section 8 authorized federal rent subsidies for privately owned apartments. These so-called Section 8 vouchers appealed to Republicans because of their contrast with public housing built and operated at government expense. Not only did vouchers rely on the private market, but also they did not require public housing's ongoing maintenance costs.

As the program expanded, Republican officials continued to focus on the mechanics and efficiency of the program, without stopping to reconsider its fundamental assumption that, without subsidies, the private housing market couldn't serve the poor. For example, John Weicher, a Republican former HUD deputy assistant secretary now with the Hudson Institute, maintained that, through Section 8, "we can achieve the modest degree of improvement needed to bring many of our dwellings up to current quality standards and can provide significant financial relief for many hard-pressed poor families." The program, he thought, would allow the poor to move to "better neighborhoods," as if—another faulty assumption—a move to a middle-class environment would make them middle class.

Today's housing bureaucrats continue to take as gospel the Kaiser Commission's core belief that housing—unless it's a shanty or a cold-water flat—will inevitably be too expensive for families of modest means. One example of many: a HUD press release this March bore the headline GOOD TIMES FOR MANY DON'T END HARD TIMES FOR LOW-INCOME RENTERS; DESPITE ECONOMIC BOOM, HUD FINDS HOUSING CRISIS DEEPENING.

But federal numbers don't support this assertion. Poor families can afford existing private housing without a subsidy—so long as the family has two earners. The federal government figures that it takes $27,000 for a family of four in Philadelphia to afford a house—that's where the voucher kicks in. But this is only barely above the $24,000 that two people earning the minimum wage would jointly earn. The additional support the Earned Income Tax Credit gives the working poor would close this "housing gap" even further, providing a $1,300 payment to a household with two children. In other words, the government officially presumes that a household in which two people earn only barely more than the minimum wage (and in this time of full employment, many unskilled workers make more) could afford private, unsubsidized housing. (Of course, a stay-at-home spouse who saved a family child-care expenses would have the same economic effect as a second job holder.) Our "housing problem," then, really is just another name for our single-parent family and illegitimacy problems, with female-headed households making up fully 84 percent of voucher holders (and a comparable percentage of public housing tenants, too).

Erroneous assumptions about housing affordability rest upon a failure to understand the importance of the means—marriage and thrift, above all—by which families improve their prospects so they can move to a good home in a good neighborhood. Better neighborhoods are not better because of something in the water but because people have built and sustained them by their efforts, their values, and their commitments. Voucher appropriations are based not only on the mistaken belief that it is necessary to award, at public expense, a better home to all who can demonstrate "need," but also that it is uplifting to do so, when in fact it is the effort to achieve the good home, rather than the good home in itself, that is the real engine of uplift.

Add to these misunderstandings the unanticipated effects of the Section 8 program's design, and you have a lethal mix. Although anyone earning less than 80 percent of the median income in theory qualifies for the program, vouchers are in limited supply, and priority goes to the poorest applicants. By law, fully 75 percent of vouchers must go to households earning only 30 percent or less of median family income. Local housing authorities can go even further in targeting the "neediest"; a quarter of Philadelphia's vouchers, for instance, go to those living in homeless shelters. These priorities are what torque the voucher program toward single-parent households, the country's lowest income group.

The priority given to such households, many of them on welfare or only recently off the rolls, forms part of a package of benefits—including food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit—that have no time limits and that, taken together, constitute significant continuing public support for single-parent low-income households. So counter does this open-ended housing voucher run to welfare reform's five-year limit that Philadelphia's brochures that describe the program stress that, no, there really is no time limit.

What's more, the program has the effect of concentrating problem-ridden, very poor single-parent families in specific neighborhoods. Under normal circumstances, Section 8 tenants would be concentrated anyway. Most landlords would shun them, for fear they would damage their property. Only owners of hard-to-rent, run-down buildings would welcome them, and these properties would be concentrated in marginal neighborhoods struggling hard to maintain their respectability. Other things being equal, landlords would try hard to find respectable working-class tenants before renting to subsidized Section 8 families.

But other things are not equal. Voucher tenants come with significant advantages to outweigh their drawbacks. Landlords don't have to worry about non-payment, since the government deposits its share of the rent—the lion's share—directly into the property owner's bank account. Moreover, for properties in precariously respectable neighborhoods, the government-paid rent is more than the market rent. Reason: the Section 8 program allows voucher holders to pay up to the average rent in their entire metropolitan area, and landlords in working-class or lower-middle-class neighborhoods, where rents are below average, simply charge voucher holders exactly that average rent. Assured payment and a more-than-generous risk premium: no wonder some landlords in neighborhoods teetering on the brink of respectability gladly welcome voucher tenants over working-class families offering lower rents and so accelerate neighborhood decline. South Philadelphia state representative William Keller tells of local property owners who "couldn't rent their place for $500, but they can get $900 from Section 8."

The result is a familiar government-subsidized racket: landlords who specialize in Section 8s—who advertise for them and know the bureaucratic rules about what it takes to get paid. In Philadelphia, state representatives and members of the City Council say that they get daily complaints about Section 8 tenants, and they keep a list of landlords and their Section 8 holdings. "There are guys with 100 Section 8 houses," says Philadelphia city councilman James Kenney. "They're clearing $40,000 a month just in Section 8 income." In south suburban Chicago, Section 8 tenants have taken over whole subdivisions of attached row houses. One subdivision in the Riverdale suburb is now a virtual Section 8 ghetto, with more than 200 voucher holders, and the whole of Riverdale has 336 voucher households out of a total population of just 13,000. Locals have nicknamed the bus that takes many of these minority voucher holders to the plentiful low-wage jobs of the western suburbs the "Apartheid Express."

As Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland points out, vouchers are replacing "vertical ghettos with horizontal ones." The southern suburbs of Chicago, where anger over Section 8 is reaching the boiling point, have absorbed almost 58 percent of all the Cook County Housing Authority's vouchers—more, in other words, than all the other parts of Chicago and its suburbs combined. All but a handful of the voucher-holders who moved from Washington, D.C., to its suburbs ended up in Maryland's Prince George's County. In Philadelphia, 45 percent of voucher holders inhabit just two of the city's five major sections—South Philadelphia and Northeast Philadelphia—blue-collar areas unaccustomed to subsidized housing.

The effects of a concentration of voucher holders on a small municipality are profound. "It has touched every aspect of the city government," says Riverdale mayor Joe Szabo. Like most of the municipalities south of Chicago, where the now-vanished steel mills and other heavy industry once clustered, this town of small ranch houses dwarfed by looming power-line stanchions has always been a solidly blue-collar place, with an active community life. Recently, though, Szabo has noticed things changing. There are more children than ever in town, but the once-popular youth football program has died. "We just can't get parent volunteers," he says. The mayor pushes park officials to mount more and more programs for lower-income children but finds that the kids' mothers just don't take the time to sign them up. "We'd have to go to individual households and convince them to send their kids, and even then they might not show up," he reports.

Demands have risen, though, for other sorts of public services. EMT crews respond to emergency calls to find callers, accustomed to city emergency rooms, simply saying they're "feeling ill." Riverdale's Potter elementary school, once boasting a top academic reputation, now has the state's highest student turnover. Student achievement has dropped—putting paid to the idea that shipping poor families to good schools in the suburbs will cause an education ethic to rub off. Instead, the concentration of disorganized families has undermined a once good school. School funds, says the mayor, must now be diverted to the legions of "special needs" students. Crime is up, too—"we have real legitimate gang issues now," the mayor says—and the city has had to increase its police force by 35 percent, from 26 to 35. That's pushing the tax rate up, which the mayor fears will discourage new home buyers, pushing the small city into a cycle of decline. A lack of local buying power—a function of the voucher program's preference for very low-income renters—has already left storefronts abandoned on Riverdale's main street.

Wayne Curry, the elected county executive of Maryland's Prince George's County (and the first African-American to hold the job), has similar worries about the impact of voucher holders on his jurisdiction. As the Washington Post observed in March: "Curry is trying to grow the economic base of Prince George's—which has one of the nation's largest black middle-class communities—by attracting higher-income residents that draw merchants and businesses. Taking in a larger share of the region's poor runs counter to that goal."

Vouchers can lead to the deterioration of individual properties as well as of whole neighborhoods. Most landlords are unwilling to rent to voucher tenants: 40 percent of the voucher funds in Cook County, and $1 billion nationally, went unused because voucher holders couldn't find landlords willing to accept their scrip. Throughout California, where landlords can find solid working-class tenants who can pay more than the vouchers pay, voucher tenants are not welcome. So voucher holders, once they succeed in finding housing, tend not to rock the boat, contrary to the expectation that they would exert leverage on landlords to keep up their properties. Moreover, observes assistant manager Patrick Finn of the village of Flossmoor in south suburban Chicago, "If you are only paying $200, and you're getting a $700 or $800 apartment, your expectations are low. It's not your money. Section 8 supports the weakest section of the real-estate market—the house that can't sell, the absentee owner who doesn't perform well in the private marketplace. It subsidizes the marginal sector."

Though in theory the voucher program was supposed to promote racial integration as inner-city minority households used their vouchers to move to previously all-white suburban neighborhoods, the effect in practice appears to be just the opposite. Vouchers are creating new, all-black communities. Joe Martin, director of an organization that has been trying for more than 20 years to attract middle-class African-American newcomers to south suburban Chicago while retaining long-term white residents, notes that the spread of voucher holders makes his already difficult task harder. "Voucher holders," he says, "have the effect of confirming the worst stereotypes." Racial integration is hard enough when whites and blacks are at relatively similar incomes. Mixing poverty-level blacks—by design of the Section 8 program—with middle-class whites is a recipe for racial instability.

But voucher-related racial problems are not confined to suburbs. The majority of voucher placements are, in fact, in lower-income urban neighborhoods, many of which are oases of hardworking families trying to maintain their properties. These are people who must be allowed to distinguish themselves from the disorderly poor. When the shabby-genteel neighborhood is white and the disorderly poor who arrive are black, the mixture is explosive—as in Philadelphia, where the Housing Authority has consistently placed the "worst stereotypes," minority former shelter residents and long-term public housing tenants, in historically white ethnic blue-collar neighborhoods.

In South Philly, the neighborhood office of state representative William Keller bustles with irate residents whose entire net worth is tied up in their homes and who fear that the presence of voucher holders will undermine the value of their property. At a City Council hearing last year, Lynne Rototli of the Mayfair Civic Association in Northeast Philly blamed vouchers for the fact that property values in her neighborhood were declining while taxes were going up. Residents of absentee-owned rental properties did not participate in community life, she said, and subsidized tenants kept late hours, making it hard for those getting up to go to work in the morning to sleep. "We are afraid," she told the Council hearing, " that the Section embodies everything that we, the middle-class people, fear."

One tragedy in the voucher saga is that some black elected officials—Pennsylvania congressman Chaka Fattah, for instance—dismiss such heartfelt concerns as racist. Such attacks leave bitterness in their wake. "You know what bothers me?" one South Philadelphia resident confided in Representative Keller's office. "I've got two kids. You know why I don't have three? Because I can't afford it. And I see people with three or four kids and no father getting a subsidy to live in my neighborhood—which means I'm paying to help them. And complaining about it makes me a racist." Being black doesn't shield you from being labeled with the R-word when you attack Section 8. African-American local officials in predominantly black Matteson, Illinois, report that they've been accused of racism over the city's decision to advise landlords that it may be better to leave a unit temporarily vacant than to rent to a voucher holder.

Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson famously argued that class, not race, is the most powerful divide that separates Americans today. Frank Arceneaux, an African-American state trooper who owns a home in Matteson and rental property in nearby Richton Park, illustrates Wilson's point as well as anyone—and he puts the lie to the idea that opposition to vouchers is inherently racist. He's become afraid to send his wife to collect rents in the apartment building he owns because of the presence of Section 8 tenants at a building nearby. "Section 8 brings a life-style from the city that I tried to escape from," he says. "It's a value difference. It's all single mothers. They let their kids stay out until midnight. I admit I'm prejudiced against blacks—blacks who don't honor my values. I can understand white flight. I'd like to fly, too, but I can't. I've maxed out my income. I'm not gonna get rich all of a sudden. I've got to stay and fight."

Critics of the voucher program propose three fixes, all of dubious efficacy. The first is the idea of "deconcentrating" voucher holders. South suburban Chicago congressman Jerry Weller (who represents Riverdale) went so far as to propose a 20 percent cap on voucher holders in a given census tract. Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr., who holds a key seat on the House Housing Committee, endorsed a version of the idea of a cap, or moratorium, in a letter to the Chicago Sun-Times last December. In a bid to placate his significant constituency in the southern suburbs, Jackson proposed that the moratorium apply to any "South Side neighborhood or southern suburb that is experiencing zero or negative economic growth"—a tough standard to meet in these prosperous times. But to spread out Section 8 tenants into other, wealthier neighborhoods would require HUD to pay even higher reimbursements to landlords—a tough sell to many legislators—and even so, landlords with other prospective tenants to choose from would resist voucher holders. It is so difficult to place voucher tenants in so-called non-traditional areas that a south suburban Chicago nonprofit dedicated to that purpose—Housing Choice Partners—has been able to place only 225 of 9,200 voucher holders outside the Section 8 corridors, despite personal counseling of voucher holders and assurance to landlords that the prospective tenants were not disruptive.

A second proposed improvement, also aimed at deconcentrating voucher tenants, is to align the value of vouchers more closely with actual private rents in a given neighborhood, to make the program less of a windfall for the owners of marginal housing. But for landlords willing to amass large blocks of such properties to rent to Section 8 tenants, the guarantee of even average rents in poor neighborhoods, deposited directly in their bank accounts each month by the government, will remain a temptation. It's an easy, risk-free way to make money.

The last proposed fix is to screen tenants. In fact, housing authorities already have legislative license to screen out those who haven't paid their rent in the past or who have criminal convictions, but they are reluctant to do so. Observes a senior HUD official closely familiar with the Section 8 program: "If a family's been evicted for disturbance—drinking, making noise—typically the authority won't screen those families out. Authorities tend not to like to do heavy screening, because it puts them in a position of having to justify their actions legally. They're worried about some Legal Aid lawyer who's going to rake over their files and make their lives miserable." And if screening is difficult, revoking vouchers after a renter has moved in requires a major effort on the part of housing authorities. While housing authorities should certainly try to improve screening and should deal firmly with rowdy tenants, such screening cannot easily replace the screening that the housing market, left alone, would do to protect and sustain neighborhoods.

But maybe we would do better to rethink this issue completely. We could house the same population we now house with vouchers—primarily single mothers—in existing public housing projects. But we could transform those projects into something very different from what they are now—into institutional homes where unwed mothers could stay only for a fixed period of time (perhaps two years), during which time they might get instruction in parenting, along with encouragement to marry the fathers of their children. Such a system envisions personal and cultural change, not just redistribution of income. In this respect, even no system at all would be better than Section 8 vouchers. Were the public to withdraw the support that enables single-parent families to get their own apartments, the women might be forced to consider marriage or to live with their own extended families, which might provide more supervision for the children. As matters stand now, a young woman who has children as a teenager can qualify, at age 18, for her own voucher-paid house, and she can keep it in perpetuity. If her income is low because she has no work experience, she would get top priority.

Even if we were to accept the dubious Johnson administration view that the poor need more income in order to afford better housing, that doesn't mean that rent vouchers would be the right way to provide it. Through the Earned Income Tax Credit, poor working families today can qualify for tax "refunds" larger than the amount actually withheld from their paychecks. If we're convinced that we must provide financial support to the working poor, far better to do it this way—or to reduce the regressive Social Security tax—than to provide housing vouchers. Even with such an income supplement, a household would still have to strive and save to find a home in a better neighborhood. Its relationship with a landlord would not be distorted. It would have to adopt the habits of thrift and discipline that would win favor with middle-class neighbors.

What our experience with Section 8 vouchers teaches us is simply this: replacing an old failure with a new one should not be confused with success.

Posted By: VietVet
Date Posted: Nov 01 2008 at 6:53pm
Sadly, you're right Pacman. This is an indictment of this Council's stubborness and "ignoring" attitude toward the residents of this city.They just won't pay any attention to what the people want. Causes major frustration to those of us who care about this town. You're right on count two- it is time to clean house in 2009 (for half of the Council rabble). Then catch the other half when their time is done.Hopefully, if we succeed in the removal,we'll never see these people control any aspect of this city's operation again. Count three- your comment on Ginger Smith becoming the "Revitalization Director" whatever that is???? Sounds like one of those "newly created positions" that the city never told us about. I thought Gilleland was suppose to be cutting positions in city government. I guess since Ginger can't run the Public Works Department with any competence, perhaps she was moved to this new position to excise a problem. We'll never know as the city boys and girls continue to play their games. Anybody with our way of thinking that we can run to fill the Council seats? With new people and a new direction, perhaps Ms Gilleland will have an opportunity to get it together and construct this city gov. the way it is suppose to be, unless, of course, she thinks like the current clowns, in which case, she needs to go also.

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