Lucinda is a victim of The Other Home Invasion.
An unmarried career woman, she bought her home years ago in a middle-class community of single family homes located in a Chicago suburb. Large lots, trim lawns, friendly neighbors, and a quiet ambience characterized the neighborhood. Sadly, with the economic downtown, Illinois is now ranked among the nation’s eight worst housing markets. The houses in Lucinda’s neighborhood sharply declined in value. That made the neighborhood ripe for real estate speculators, who bought properties in foreclosure, slapped on paint, installed or repaired a few fixtures, and got listed as an approved Section 8 property.
What Is Section 8 Anyway?
Section 8 of the Unites States Housing Act of 1937, often simply called Section 8, authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of approximately 3.1 million low-income households. Section 8 enables recipients to put a percentage of their income toward rent at private apartments/houses, while vouchers pay for the remainder of the rent.
Section 8 operates through several programs. The largest is the Housing Choice Voucher program, which pays a large portion of the rents and utilities of about 2.1 million households. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Develoment manages the Section 8 programs.
In theory, Section 8 is a laudable program designed to help poor families live in more economically sound areas. Karyn’s experience has been quite different.
Lucinda’s Personal Experience
The new tenants across the street from Lucinda have a constant stream of visitors, both during the day and late at night. Multiple cars block driveways and hoard parking. The visitors are noisy and brash. What have Lucinda and her neighbors done? Everything. Many have complained to the landlord. The police have been called repeatedly. The homeowner’s association has done it’s best to wrangle with the municipal housing department. Nothing has changed. The disruption goes on and, in all liklihood, will not abate.
But that’s only one neighbor.
The tenant behind Lucinda has two large dogs who are left outside all day and all night. They never stop barking. Lucinda has called the police several times. When the police arrived, they reported that the dogs weren’t barking. One recent afternoon, while she was trying to work in her garden, Lucinda saw the dog owner outside and asked if she would please quiet the dogs. Lucinda had to raise her voice to be heard over the barking dogs. Her neighbor called the police and reported that Lucinda had “screamed” at her over the back fence. The police arrived at Lucinda’s door and warned her not to engage the neighbor. Yes, they were sympathetic, but, well, there’s nothing they can do.
Lucinda’s quiet enjoyment of her modest home has — in every sense of the word — been destroyed. Not only is she disturbed by ongoing noise and disruption, she’s afraid of the new neighbors who are very angry with her for calling the police. She wonders if she’ll be able to continue living there. And yet, the only buyers for her home would be the speculators and she can’t bear to think of adding her own house to the growing number of Section 8 properties on her street. At least not yet.
What’s gone wrong with a government program designed to help people secure affordable housing? Home Invasion News suspects the problems that are exploding with Section 8 lie beyond the laps of Section 8 applicants and squarely in the laps of money grubbers and bottom feeders trolling for a quick buck.
Add to that, widespread local mismanagement of the program, spanning nearly two decades, complications in enforcing evictions, and parts of the process that encourage en masse relocation from public housing. Criticism of Section 8 abounds, on many fronts. In short, the word on this street is “Section 8 is a hot mess.”
Journalist Christoper Swope, writing for Shelterforce Online published by the National Housing Institute, delivers a brilliant article titled “Section 8 is Broken.”
Swope’s is not an anti-public housing rant. Rather, he presents a thoughtful, thorough examination of how Section 8 housing has gone terribly wrong in major cities like Baltimore, Chicago, and Philadelphia. Though originally written in 2002, many of the Section 8 concerns addressed in his article remain with us today.
Swopes quotes Ed Rutkowski, who heads a community development corporation working to revitalize neighborhoods in Baltimore. Rutkowski says Section 8 is “a catalyst in neighborhood deterioration and ghetto expansion.”
Christine Klepper, director of Housing Choice Partners in Cook County (Chicago), says “Left to its own devices, Section 8 will always seek out the softest housing markets … often in a transitional or poor neighborhood.”
Swopes notes in his article (which we highly recommend reading in full) that the success of Section 8 can vary from neighborhood to neighborhood, and even from block to block. He quotes Howard Husock, a housing expert at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, who says, “We can’t just end [Section 8] tomorrow, but we could really improve the character of the voucher program if there were time limits … If your rent is paid forever, then you don’t have an incentive to improve your living situation.”
At its core, four major flaws in Section 8 are emerging in a shaky real estate market.
1. Concentrating additional poverty in neighborhoods that are already struggling.
2. Churning settled neighborhoods into depressed neighborhoods.
3. Allowing real estate investors/speculators working with predatory lenders to buy cheaply in declining neighborhoods, do cosmetic repairs, get on the Section 8 approved list at “market rents,” and become absentee landlords, effectively flooding struggling areas with Section 8 tenants. We even found this article on the Internet that provides a minimalist step-by-step roadmap for “How to Fix Up Homes to Rent for Section 8.”
4. Sloppy management of the voucher program that encourages concentrations of Section 8 tenants in particular areas.
For more articles about Section 8 housing, here are some links:
In Austin, Texas
In New York City
Orange County, Florida
Los Angeles, California
New Orleans, Louisiana
Sanford, North Carolina
Grand Rapids, Michigan