Shelter Shorts

Landlord Must Accept Section 8

The New Jersey Supreme Court said in March that landlords cannot refuse to participate in the Section 8 program if one of their tenants becomes eligible for it. The court, in a unanimous decision, said Franklin Tower One, L.L.C., which owns an 18-unit housing development in West New York, must participate in the program and cannot take action against one of its tenants for non-payment of rent, the Associated Press (3/23/99) reported.

The case involves a 65-year-old widow, who was not named, who tried to use her federal Section 8 voucher to pay for a portion of her rent. The landlord at the time, Sava Holding Corp., refused to participate, claiming participation in the program is voluntary and it did not want to get entangled in “bureaucracy.” The landlord later filed a complaint against the tenant, claiming non-payment of rent. The property has since been sold to Franklin Tower One, which inherited the court action.

The Supreme Court said fear of red tape was no reason to refuse to accept housing vouchers. The court also noted that recent welfare reforms dedicated more money to the housing program to help people move from welfare to work. It said requiring landlords to accept these Section 8 vouchers “will facilitate those welfare reform efforts.”

Because the case addressed an existing tenant, the court said it is not required to decide if a property owner who has never participated in the housing voucher program must accept new tenants receiving such assistance. However, the court noted that a New Jersey law prohibiting discrimination based on a tenant’s source of income or the source of a tenant’s lawful rental payments “makes no distinction between existing tenants and prospective tenants.”

Residents Save Homes

A success story could be brewing in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green housing project, as residents have quietly developed a reputation for reliability with the Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) officials, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (3/10/99).

Resident managers of its 1230 N. Burling building, located in a neighborhood that has become a battleground between low-income residents and encroaching $300,000 condominiums, have been in charge of rent collection and upkeep at the 134-unit building since 1991. They have taken a formerly blighted building and created better living conditions, with lights, running elevators, working heat, a playground built with grant money, and planted flowers. They have also kept the building’s hallways and stairwells comparatively free of graffiti, broken lights, and urine. As a result, their efforts have been rewarded with millions of dollars worth of government-subsidized upgrades that other Chicago projects have never gotten.

Now they may be further rewarded. A large chunk of the project is being torn down to make way for brick townhomes and duplexes that will begin to appear this summer. But residents of the building are vowing not to watch their building meet the wrecking ball and risk never getting one of those townhomes. They want to buy the building – and CHA officials say they’ll likely sell.

The residents have presented a solid plan. First, they’re offering the city $50,000 for the building, using a 40-year bank loan they’d pay back with one-time resident fees and rent. Housing officials estimate the building is worth at least $1 million. Residents are also promising to put the remaining unemployed, able-bodied residents – about half of the 90 lease-holders – to work or find them jobs elsewhere. In return, they’re asking HUD to subsidize maintenance costs at the building for 10 years. After that, the residents would be on their own – something they say they could handle because, by that time, most residents would be able to pay more rent. A former public housing resident manager who’s writing the Burling proposal says the potential payoff makes the investment worthwhile.

Joining Forces in DC

Collaboration became more than a buzzword for the community building movement this March when two leading organizations in the field, the National Congress for Community Economic Development and the National Low Income Housing Coalition, along with 11 other national organizations, held a joint policy conference in Washington, DC, to explore and advance the work of community-based organizations around the country.

In addition to dozens of workshops ranging from housing policy to jobs retention, participants had the opportunity to learn how to effectively educate their congressional representatives during an afternoon of meetings on Capitol Hill.

The conference ended on a high note, when HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo addressed a packed room of 700 community development practitioners. He lauded the field for its progress in becoming “professional” over the past several years. But more importantly, he reminded those present that we are more than a profession, we are a movement for justice in the United States. Cuomo eloquently offered important affirmation and re-energized a conference-weary crowd.

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Shelterforce is the only independent, non-academic publication covering the worlds of community development, affordable housing, and neighborhood stabilization.

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