Carolina Curious: The Search For Safe, Affordable Housing

Carolina Curious: The Search For Safe, Affordable Housing

8:59am Apr 24, 2019
Government housing in Northeast Winston-Salem on Motor Road. DAVID FORD/WFDD

Over the past few months, WFDD has received several questions from listeners about housing issues. Despite its continued growth, the Triad has some of the highest eviction rates in the country. Between 2014 and July of 2018, roughly one in five Guilford and Forsyth County renters faced the prospect of being removed from their homes.

One reason? Lack of affordable housing. We’ve been asking you for your input, and for this installment of Carolina Curious, we’re taking a deeper dive into this important issue affecting thousands of Triad residents each year.

WFDD’s David Ford spoke with Greensboro Housing Coalition Executive Director Brett Byerly.

WFDD listener Joe Johnson asks: "I'm familiar with HAWS [Housing Authority of Winston-Salem]. I know they offer Section 8 and other low-income housing options. What are the qualifications for one seeking that housing? The wait times? And also what are the quality standards for owners of the property?"

So, public housing authorities like Greensboro Housing Authority or the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, operate under funding primarily from the Department of Housing and Urban Development—or what we call HUD—and there's basically two types of housing that they operate. There's voucher housing, which is Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers—actually the real name for it, but people still call it Section 8—and it runs a gamut of different types of voucher type housing where a private owner owns that housing, and the Housing Authority pays the rent. They have a housing contract with the landlord, and the tenant pays a portion of the rent, and the Housing Authority pays a portion of the rent. The other type of housing that housing authorities offer is traditional, what we call, public housing, where the Housing Authority owns the unit, and a resident lives there in that unit which has the subsidy. The unit has the subsidy in public housing. The person has the subsidy in voucher-based housing.

WFDD listener Joe Johnson volunteers with Crisis Control Ministries. "A lot of folks out there are working hard and just can't make rent," says Johnson. "That needs to change." DAVID FORD/WFDD

And what are the qualifications to get into that system?

Each housing authority has an administrative plan which has to be approved by HUD and it kind of spells out their qualifications, and they publish their administrative plan annually. But typically what you're looking at is meeting an income threshold. For public housing it might be that you would have to be below 50 percent of area median income to basically qualify. And then there's some other qualifications that the housing authorities put on as well which may be that you didn't have evictions on your record or certain things in your criminal record would be prohibited to be able to get onto that waiting list. Now the reality is, in this country, about 25 percent of the people that would actually qualify for a voucher or a public housing unit actually get one. So the housing authorities don't have the resources that they need to actually provide three-quarters of the service that they would be able to provide based on these income qualifications. So what happens in Greensboro—I can speak to that specifically—is we end up with a situation where people sign up for a waitlist with the Housing Authority, they open that waitlist every year or two ... and then you wait three to seven years potentially. And then they call you and say, “We have a voucher for you.”

WFDD listener Sharon LaCombe wants to know: “Why isn't there low-income housing that is safer than Section 8 housing?”

Well, part of that goes back to the question of does the Housing Authority inspect property? So, the Housing Authority inspects their properties. There's somebody looking. In the private market where inspections may not happen, there's no inspector coming. So, you're going to end up with lower quality because you end up with less inspections. However, having said that, each municipality has its own set of code enforcement standards that they have set for their area. If cities aren't enforcing their minimum housing standards, you're going to end up with lower quality housing in there as well. So, part of it is the Housing Authority and part of it’s the municipality to enforce standards that they have.

Listener Scottie Bottenus asks: “When will the city contribute to the low-income housing community? More expensive apartments downtown and boarded up government housing next door. Shameful.”

It's frustrating seeing these boarded-up places, these abandoned and vacant properties. But I would say that municipalities typically do contribute to affordable housing. But the mechanisms that they do it in don't produce an extremely large number of units. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is the primary method nationally and locally for affordable housing to be built and developed, and it's a very stringent program from the Housing Finance Agency at the state level. In Greensboro we build 70 to 100 new units a year through this program, and each one of those units we build at a cost of somewhere between $120,000 and $175,000 per door. So, say you're going to build 10 units at $150,000 dollars a unit. You don't get many units. In Greensboro, we passed a bond two years ago. Twenty-five million dollars for affordable housing. Sounds like a lot of money, doesn't it? Divide that by $150,000 dollars and see how many units that gets you if you were to just do it straight up that way.

By your estimates, how many affordable housing units are actually needed in Greensboro right now?

The most recent number that came out is we have 26,000 households that are paying more than 30 percent of their income for their housing. So, you've got 26,000 households and you're going to build 100 or 200 units? It's not going to get you very far.

Support your
public radio station