Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Do You Know What Section 8 Housing Vouchers Are?


Section 8 Housing Vouchers offer hope for low-income families and give landlords the opportunity to help

Hidden behind the bright promise of southern Beaufort County’s numerous gated communities and manicured golf courses, many families are struggling to make ends meet in a shrinking affordable-housing market. Without government housing vouchers, single working mothers, including 29 year old Samantha Meyer of Bluffton, would be in deep trouble.

Home for Meyer and her daughters – ages 10, 6, and 3 – is a three bedroom, two bathroom apartment at Bluffton House, a modern taupe two-story apartment complex complete with tennis courts and a large swimming pool. Residents of 30 apartments in the 280-unit complex off Simmonsville Road currently participate in the government rental voucher subsidy program known as Section 8.

The housing vouchers subsidize low-income families so that they can afford to rent decent and safe housing in the private market. Only a small percentage of eligible applicants receive the housing vouchers; most are put on a waiting list when they apply.

Recipients may select any housing with rent at or below the “fair market rate” set by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, if the owner agrees to accept the voucher as payment.

Meyer, who has worked as a nail technician at the Breathe Spa on Daufuskie Island for four years, says the rent subsidy helps her save for a down payment to eventually purchase a home.

Families who receive the vouchers must contribute 30% of their income to pay rent. The voucher is used to pay the rest. The Beaufort Housing Authority, located on Duke Street in Beaufort, negotiates with participating landlords to set the total rent based on the landlord’s asking rent, total household family size, family income and other factors.

In Beaufort County, Section 8 has proven popular with elected officials, landlords and financial institutions because it steers the government away from public housing developments and toward the private marketplace.

“We currently assist families at a number of apartment complexes in southern Beaufort County, among them are Bluffton House Apartments, 90 Dillon Apartments, and Vista View Apartments,” said Ben Johnson, Section 8 administrator at the Beaufort Housing Authority.

His office provides an average of $415 of monthly rental assistance per household, and 577 households countywide currently participate in the program, Johnson said. 11% of Beaufort County’s residents live below the poverty level, according to statistics provided by the US Census Bureau.

The Section 8 program helps more than two million low-income families nationwide.

Johnson said the waiting period after an applicant is approved for the Section 8 program varies but priority is given to elderly, disabled and working applicants.

Mica Weathers, 24, is another single working mother with two children, ages 2 and 1. She lives in a two bedroom and two bathroom apartment at Bluffton House. Weathers’ rent is $588 a month, and her portion is $170 with the remainder met by the Section 8 housing voucher. Weathers’ job at Starbucks pays $8.50 per hour, making the subsidy derived from the voucher essential.

Income qualifications are based on a median income figure of $63,000 for Beaufort County calculated by the federal government. To participate in the Section 8 program, a one-wage earner household’s annual income can be no more than $19,845, and a two-wage earner family’s maximum income is $30,240 per year.

Guidelines for the program disqualify applicants who have committed serious crimes, those whose total household income exceeds set limits (based on family size), and people who have an outstanding balance with the Beaufort Housing Authority. Some people who participate in the Section 8 housing program also receive Medicaid and food stamps.

A recent market survey by GVA Marquette Advisors confirms that there is strong demand for apartment units with monthly rents below $700, particularly two and three bedroom units, for households earning approximately $30,000 per year or less. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, more than the minimum wage is required to afford a one or two bedroom apartment at fair market rent.

Michael Maloney, principal of Quinnco Co. and owner of Bluffton House, the largest Section 42 housing project in South Carolina, used a tax credit development incentive to construct the apartment complex. Now, instead of offering incentives to developers who build affordable housing, the federal government has shifted in the last few years to Section 8, which is a more tenant-based program.

Maloney also donated land in Bluffton to the non-profit housing organization Habitat for Humanity, where the Brendan Woods neighborhood now stands. He said the Section 8 program is user friendly for landlords and tenants.

“It doesn’t seem that everything someone does should be guided by the lure of the highest potential profit margin, when you can endeavor to meet some important common needs profitably, albeit at a lesser level,” he said.

Officials at the Beaufort Housing Authority said 250 landlords in the county are participating in the Section 8 voucher program.

Applications for the Section 8 Program will be accepted at 1205-B Duke Street in Beaufort on November 17, 2006 from 9am – 3pm. Applicants must provide all of the following information:

Original birth certificates
Original Social Security cards
Proof of household income
Photo ID for all over 18
Proof of marital status

For more information regarding the Section 8 Program and the Beaufort Housing Authority, call 843-525-7075.

If you or anyone you know may be interested in purchasing a unit for inclusion in the Section 8 program, please let me know.

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