SAHA making inroads on Section 8 problem
Chuck McCollough, SA Express-News
June 22, 2005

Residents of a Northeast Side neighborhood still are blinking their eyes at the speedy response of several government agencies.

Just a few weeks ago, residents harshly criticized the San Antonio Housing Authority about a Section 8 problem in the Montgomery Drive area.

Now they are partnering with SAHA, Bexar County Housing Authority and other agencies on the situation.

"I'm encouraged by what I heard today," said Montgomery Drive area resident Jay Farmer after a June 13 meeting.

"This Section 8 problem took a long time to happen and won't be solved overnight. We need to give these folks a chance."

SAHA spends $2.5 million a year on Section 8 rental assistance for 354 houses in the unincorporated Montgomery Drive area, where residents complained for many years that there is a concentration of subsidized housing.

Residents said the Section 8 concentration, which contains more SAHA homes than BCHA, has contributed to the Montgomery Drive area's deterioration and added more crime, graffiti and trash.

In response to the complaints, SAHA is checking Section 8 properties in the area. The inspections will determine if properties meet criteria necessary for private landlords to receive federal rent help, SAHA President Henry Alvarez III said during the meeting with residents and county and federal officials.

"Our inspections are to make sure the Section 8 properties in our program in that area are decent, safe and sanitary. We are about halfway through the inspections and they will be finished in about 45 days (the last week of July)," he said. Properties that fail to meet Section 8 standards risk being dropped from the program.

The Section 8 scrutiny followed a May 13 meeting called by Precinct 4 Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson to help the Montgomery Area Neighborhood Association get a response from SAHA, an agency that residents said had been of little help in the past.

SAHA and BCHA together had 440 Section 8 properties as the agencies began checking the properties for compliance after the first meeting.

MANA officials said some landlords own dozens of Section 8 houses in the area.

The average SAHA Section 8 rent assistance, given to the landlord, is $477 per month and is supposed to be based on a reasonable rent amount in the overall rental market, Alvarez said. The tenant pays the remainder of the rent to the landlord. SAHA officials said they are using the rental assistance amount as leverage to get Section 8 landlords to make necessary repairs or lose the subsidy.

"Within six to nine months you will see fewer (SAHA) Section 8 units in this (Montgomery area) neighborhood. It may be 10 less or 20 less or 100 less," the SAHA boss said, adding that the reduction will take place because "some property owners won't take the reasonable rent (subsidy) we offer or they won't make repairs necessary (to stay in the program)," Alvarez said.

He told Montgomery Drive area residents at the June 13 meeting that SAHA cannot simply sweep Section 8 out of their neighborhood and even if the agency could, it would leave hundreds of empty houses that could create an even bigger problem.

Attending the meeting were Adkisson, officials with the BCHA, residents of the 3,500-house MANA, officials with the San Antonio office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which operates Section 8, and a representative of U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio.

David Pohler, director of public housing for the local HUD field office, said the Section 8 program gives renters the choice of where to live and that SAHA and BCHA cannot prevent them from living in ZIP 78239 or anywhere else.

Among suggestions at the June 13 meeting was one requesting housing officials crosscheck a list of Section 8 properties with incident reports from the Bexar County Sheriff's Department.

"I would be keenly interested in seeing that information from the Sheriff's Department. We can match those houses (that have Sheriff's Department calls and Section 8 rental assistance) by looking at the data," Alvarez said.

Resident Nancy Busch asked local HUD officials to push for changes in the Section 8 law that will give SAHA and other housing agencies more tools to control the quality of Section 8 housing.

Luz Solis Day, director of the local HUD field office, said she would forward the ideas from Busch and other meeting participants to her bosses.

"Section 8 property owners need to be responsive under the program," she said.

The next meeting of the Section 8 group likely will be held after SAHA and BCHA complete compliance inspections of their Section 8 program properties, Adkisson said.

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