At the recent State of the City breakfast, it was stated that one of the problems with the downtown area is Section 8 housing. I have heard and read the espousement of this theory for many years, but never has there been proof that the Section 8 folks are the problem. It is also popular to blame public housing for the city’s inner-core concerns.
First, I would like to make it clear that, although we are the affordable housing “big dog” in town, we are not the only provider. We do not own or manage Alexander House, Bethel Gardens or Elizabeth Court.
Neither is any of our public housing located in the city’s inner core. Only 180 Section 8 contracts are in effect in the inner core. We asked the city to provide the total number of rentals in the inner core for comparison purposes. No statistics were available, although one would think the number is in the thousands.
There are further comparisons and contrasts. Landlords contracting with Section 8 are required to maintain their properties to our quality standards (which are higher than city standards). Section 8 recipients have their assistance terminated when they violate the program; public housing residents are evicted from their homes if they violate their leases. The important distinction here is that landlords may elect to allow a terminated Section 8 lessee to continue to occupy the residence — but without Section 8 assistance — at which point they are no longer “Section 8.” Rather, they are tenants of private landlords, like the vast majority of the other rentals in the inner core. Those landlords have the responsibility to ensure that the tenants they house have a rental history that protects them from damage to their units and that they are of good character. I know of no landlord in the city who has a more stringent program of screening prospective tenants than the Housing Authority. The Housing Authority is also diligent in following up on program violations (Section 8) and lease violations (public housing) to assure that only qualified persons are being subsidized.
I thought readers might be interested in facts regarding the Housing Authority and the benefits we have provided to Hagerstown over the last 10 years.
- The Housing Authority has injected more than $200 million dollars into the local economy. Approximately $85 million dollars were awards from national competitions. Had we not competed for and won that money, another larger city would have received it.
- $60 million has been paid directly to local landlords in the city.
- The Housing Authority revitalized a significant portion of the West End of the city. Check it out if you haven’t. Gateway Crossing has been occupied and operating for more than six years, and I feel confident that there is no better rental housing in Washington County. While you are at it, check out our new “totally green” C. Williams Brooks mid-rise building that was built with American Recovery and Revitalization (“stimulus”) funding. It opened in July. We currently are working on a plan to replace Noland Village with housing similar to Gateway Crossing.
The Housing Authority has won eight national awards. (Although we have competed for local Chamber of Commerce awards, we have never won one.)
Our security force has been credited by city police and the mayor for reducing crime in our public housing. According to statistics provided by the Hagerstown Police Department, the 2011 per capita crime rate in public housing was about half that of the city’s.
There is so much more that I could share with you regarding the Hagerstown Housing Authority and its positive role in the city, but space does not allow. Hagerstown is a great city; we are pleased and proud to be a part of it.
Ted Shankle is executive director of Hagerstown Housing Authority.