Reserved Housing Vouchers Raise Questions Among Community Members
By Robert Holly
Several community members plan to voice concerns Thursday over a set of housing vouchers that are being held in reserve while 400 low-income households are kept on a waiting list.The Housing Authority of Champaign County said earlier this month that it had 233 “housing choice vouchers” in reserve to provide assistance for those households displaced by redevelopment projects.
Opponents say that giving preferential treatment to those displaced households would further postpone housing assistance for people who already can wait up to five years to get a voucher.
But even with the reserve vouchers, more than 100 additional vouchers will be needed for those displaced by redevelopment projects, said Tonya Crawley, director of the housing choice voucher program for the authority.
“We need 335 (vouchers),” Crawley said. “They’ve designated a certain count for each property being built so it totals 335.”
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded enough funding to the housing authority to finance 1,706 vouchers, but Crawley said only about 1,500 vouchers have been issued.
Meanwhile, the housing authority is also seeking public comment on its plans to amend the way the vouchers are awarded. The call for comment comes as the City of Champaign seeks help from the authority to relocate dozens of families in the Bristol Park area as a result of city redevelopment plans.
The Housing Authority of Champaign County board meets today (Thursday) at 3 p.m. at 205 W. Park St., C
Esther Patt, a housing advocate, said several people concerned about affordable housing will be attending today’s meeting to question the number of vouchers in reserve.
“With more than 300 homeless children in the county and more than 400 families waiting on the Section 8 waiting list, it’s unconscionable for the housing authority to be sitting on close to 200 vouchers and not putting them into use right now," Patt said.
Edward Bland, executive director of the housing authority, has said it can take from one to five years to go from the waiting list to receiving a voucher.
The waiting list is cut off at about 400 households and so some households have to wait just to get on the list.
“Having an open list ongoing would be a challenge to manage because you have people constantly calling,” said Crawley. “It becomes an administrative burden.”
But officials noted the authority recently opened its waiting list for new applicants.
The housing authority oversees programs that provide housing for low-income households, people with disabilities and the elderly. The initial value of a voucher is determined by what HUD sets as the free market rent value—the average monthly cost to rent an apartment.
Currently, that value is $645 for a one-bedroom apartment and $785 for a two-bedroom apartment.
The housing authority has the flexibility to change that value by 10 percent, which means the actual number of available vouchers could vary.
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.
If the authority adopted the point system, it could give preference to families displaced by new projects, such as the redevelopment of Bristol Park.
Public comment is accepted until 5 p.m. on Oct. 8 on the issue.