Rents rise for poorSome tenants around the area will see a big increase in rent beginning today, Friday, October 1.
By: Celeste Beam, Alexandria Echo Press
Some tenants around the area will see a big increase in rent beginning today, Friday, October 1.
And many are not happy about it. In fact, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota is now involved.
In August, the Douglas County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board of Commissioners met and adopted an updated HRA Agency Plan.
As part of the new plan, HRA Section 8 voucher holders in Douglas County received notice that their rent would be increasing.
HRA adjusted the rent payment standard, which is the amount of total housing expenses, including rent to the owner, plus any tenant paid utilities, set by HRA based upon fair market rents. Adjustments were also made to occupancy standards.
Previously, the HRA-approved payment standard for a two-bedroom home was $621 per month. Under the new plan, the approved rent is $559 per month – a difference of $62 per month or $744 per year.
The Section 8 voucher program is designed in part to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing for very low-income families while maintaining their rent payments at an affordable level.
When contacted by the newspaper, Jeff Schiffman, director of the Douglas County HRA, declined comment, but referred the newspaper to the chairman of the HRA board, James Jensen.
According to a statement issued by Jensen on September 28, “The plan included adjustments to the payment standards and occupancy standards used in conjunction with the Housing Choice Voucher Program to determine the amount of assistance received by HRA clients.”
The changes, according to Jensen, were made after review and approval by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Douglas County HRA Board of Commissioners.
“These changes, which will take effect October 1, were made in regard to balancing the voucher program budget by the end of the fiscal year. Lack of action by the Housing Authority Board of Commissioners would have resulted in the termination of assistance for more than 200 families currently receiving rental assistance,” said Jensen in his statement.
Sherry Bruckner with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, said a tenant receives assistance from HRA to pay a portion of his/her rent. Generally, tenants pay between 30 and 40 percent of their income on housing costs.
Under the new plan, however, many tenants will now pay more than 55 percent of their income on housing, according to Bruckner.
She added that HRA cited a projected budget shortfall as the basis for decreasing payment and increasing occupancy standards. In early August, said Bruckner, Schiffman projected a shortfall of $55,000 to $65,000 for the year. However, she added, it is unclear whether this amount has decreased since 11 families left the program in early August.
It is Legal Services’ position that the notice of changes sent to tenants from HRA was illegal and not enforceable. Legal Services has a number of legal and factual reasons for this position, according to Bruckner. They include:
•HRA failed to fully consider other ways to save money.
•HRA has not shown the need for the amount of money to be saved by these increases.
•HRA did not have a recipient of housing assistance on the HRA board of directors nor a Resident Advisory Board.
•HRA cannot increase someone’s rent under the new occupancy or rent standards until its next annual re-examination.
•HUD approved a waiver and plan change without sufficient evidence.
Bruckner, who reviewed the minutes of the meeting where the HRA board adopted the updated HRA Agency Plan, said, “After reviewing the minutes, it’s not clear whether the board discussed any other options, let alone the impact on the tenants. I’m concerned that the changes are much more drastic than need be. If 221 voucher holders face rent increases of $176 per month, it equals $38,896 per month. That’s a lot of money and it’s on the backs of families already living in poverty.”