In Greenville County, hundreds with housing vouchers struggle to find housing | Greenville News

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GREENVILLE — Cedric Arnold lived in his van for about a year before enrolling in a housing voucher program, a federal initiative administered by the Greenville Housing Authority.

He struggles with physical and mental disabilities, and finding affordable housing seemed out of reach. When he was approved for a voucher in October 2021, he was able to find accommodation almost immediately in an apartment complex just north of Greenville.

But the unit he was supposed to move into failed an inspection. Then another. He couldn’t move in until January.

Then the complex was sold to an out-of-state company. All tenants have been notified that they have to move out for renovations. The rent would be higher when the apartments became available again and the new owners would not accept the vouchers.

Arnold was once again homeless.

In the months that followed, he encountered one roadblock after another. It was difficult to find a place that will accept his voucher. Communication issues and a constant stream of paperwork further complicated the situation.

The 52-year-old has been sleeping on his mother’s sofa in a small apartment in Greenville since March.

“I’m tired,” Arnold said. “I wish I could live in the same place and not have to worry about moving anymore.”

As housing advocates continue to work to convince more landlords to accept vouchers, many, like Arnold, are in desperate need of housing.

Difficulties

Arnold is one of 225 people with housing vouchers in Greenville County who are struggling to find housing.

Just north of 7% of program participants cannot find housing despite qualifying for federal aid. While the Housing Authority has around 2,800 people placed, it also has a waiting list of around 3,500 people.

Housing Authority CEO Shawn Williams said the problem was largely due to two factors: a lack of units that meet federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) price requirements and a shortage owners willing to accept vouchers.

HUD sets parameters for what it considers fair rental costs in an area, and local agencies can only subsidize apartments that fall within a narrow range of those costs. In Greenville County, the HUD fair market rate for a one-bedroom home is $958. For a two-bedroom, it’s $1,075, and so on. Williams said working within those restrictions is a challenge.


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Bill Clark, a real estate investor and former board member of the Upstate Carolina Real Estate Investors Association, said the recent boom in the housing market and steadily rising rental rates have only made it more difficult for owners to justify the acceptance of vouchers from the point of view of profitability.

“Profit is the name of the game,” he said. “With these government vouchers, if there’s more money elsewhere, they’re gone. If you come and offer me $150,000 for a house, I got $700 or $800 for a month with a voucher, I would be crazy to keep this house.”

Greenville Housing Fund landlord recruitment specialist Hilary Lamishaw said the extra layers of bureaucracy that come with a voucher can be an additional barrier.

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Before a voucher holder can move into an apartment or house, the property must pass an inspection. Sometimes the process can be long and opaque, she said, creating a barrier for tenants and landlords. Lamishaw said there has to be a balance between making the process more efficient while ensuring homes are suitable.

“What I hear from owners is that sometimes inspections can be subjective and you don’t know exactly what the owner is looking for,” she said. “I’ve heard at least one story where an owner tried to do the repair three times and the inspector said, ‘No, that’s not right, that’s not right. “…So it’s partly a lack of communication.”


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Williams said a stigma against low-income tenants, particularly voucher holders, can also deter landlords from accepting government subsidies.

Although the scheme sometimes has problems with problem tenants, Williams said, most follow the scheme’s guidelines and the Housing Authority is cracking down on those who don’t.

“There are voucher holders who get up and go to work every day and work hard, and there are participants who no matter what we do, how we try to advise them, provide support services, are just not going to abide by the rules and regulations of the program, so they are terminated,” she said. “We are working to terminate them further, because no participant should be allowed to destroy the unit of a owner, then receive another voucher and go destroy another owner’s unit.”

If there are issues, she says, the tenant’s participation in the program provides an additional layer of oversight and another avenue to resolve disputes.

While voucher holders sometimes go out of bounds, Williams said some landlords abuse the system or provide inadequate accommodation in breach of Housing Authority standards.

Changes

Williams said an effort is underway to make the program easier to navigate and more attractive to owners and voucher holders.

In 2021, the Housing Authority was accepted into HUD’s Moving to Work initiative, a program designed to help local agencies tailor services to better meet the needs of their communities.

Upcoming changes will create more incentives for homeowners and landowners to participate.


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These changes will be partly modeled on the emergency voucher scheme the Housing Authority introduced in response to the pandemic, when the Housing Authority provided more money for enhanced security deposits, filing fees and claims for damages. All 54 families who signed up for the emergency voucher program were able to find housing, she said.

“It shows owners are willing to participate if they have that incentive,” she said.

The new designation will also give the Housing Authority more flexibility when it comes to acceptable rental rates set by HUD. Currently, the agency can only accept units that represent 90-110% of HUD’s fair rates. It will soon be able to place voucher holders in units priced between 80 and 150 percent of those rates.

It will take several months before these changes are implemented. A roundtable of owners to gather feedback is scheduled for August 28. Williams said she hoped the open dialogue would help.

“We can’t get away with it,” she said. “We need to have good partnerships with our owners.”

Meanwhile, hundreds are waiting for a home. Arnold said the changes couldn’t come soon enough.

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