Community Speaks Out Against Reserved Housing Vouchers
By Robert Holly
The Housing Authority of Champaign County publicly confirmed Thursday that they want to reserve up to 287 housing vouchers for planned redevelopment projects.
The vouchers are for low-income households and would be held back for those households moving into the new projects.
Dozens of community members attended Thursday's s board meeting in Champaign to express concerns about the reserved vouchers as well as the city of Champaign's redevelopment plan for the Bristol Park neighborhood and the housing authority’s proposed plan to amend the way it distributes vouchers.
The confirmation comes at a time when there are 400 families and individuals on a waiting list for the vouchers.
Housing Authority administrators told commissioners that they have about 180 vouchers in reserve for the Urban Park Place, Dunbar and Joanne Dorsey redevelopment projects.
They also said they needed about 100 more vouchers to reach a total of 287 vouchers for those current projects.
That is roughly 50 fewer vouchers than they estimated in earlier interviews.
Tonya Crawley, director of the Housing Authority's housing choice voucher program, said in an interview earlier this month that the agency has 233 housing vouchers set aside for redevelopment projects and needs a total of 335 vouchers in reserve.
When contacted for comment on the difference between what was reported Wednesday night and in the interview earlier this month, Crawley asked for a call back “during business hours.”
Ed Bland, executive director of the Housing Authority, could not be reached.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded enough funding to the housing authority to finance 1,706 vouchers, but in the earlier interview Crawley said that only about 1,500 vouchers had been issued.
Esther Patt was the first to voice concerns Thursday and questioned why officials are holding on to over 100 vouchers when there are families who are currently in need.
“Last month alone, the Champaign-Urbana Tenant Union was contacted by 41 households who were facing eviction because they cannot keep up with rent payments,” said Patt.
Other members of the community raised objections to the voucher reservation as well.
“(Holding back vouchers) is crazy to me,” said Martel Miller. “Plenty of times people have called me for housing, and I’ve called Ed Bland and he said he don’t have any vouchers, ‘Ain’t no way he can get vouchers.’ Now I find that he got 200 vouchers.”
Grant Henry, who was nominated unopposed as vice chairperson of the Housing Authority board, proposed adding the matter to the board’s agenda as well as the proposed amendments to the voucher allocation process.
He said that the amendment was “buried in the document library” and that he wants information to be displayed easily, not hidden, and more visible to the public.
Earlier this month, the Housing Authority issued a public notice of its intent to amend how vouchers are awarded to incorporate a degree of preference. With the change, some applicants will be selected from the waiting list in order of the number of “points” they get.
The notice states that “applicants that are involuntarily displaced from their permanent residence by a Federal, State or local governmental action” will be awarded preference.
Adding items to the official agenda requires a majority board vote.
As Margaret Neil, who was nominated unopposed to chairperson, was the only person in favor of Henry’s amendment, it did not pass.
The board of the Housing Authority of Champaign County is next scheduled to meet next month.