A few weeks ago, a generous donation from IMPACT, a group of local faith congregations, paid off $17,000 in overdue rent for nearly 80 residents of city public housing, allowing them to stay in their homes. But some residents want another look at the reasons behind all that unpaid rent.
The recent eviction threats of public housing residents, and the money raised by IMPACT to help them, has Westhaven resident Joy Johnson saying, “Bailing us out? [IMPACT’s] bailing the housing authority out.”
Joy Johnson, vice chair of the Public Housing Association of Residents, says there are problems for residents who have seasonal jobs. In the public housing system, residents pay 30 percent of their income per month. People who only work nine months of the year must report their three months of no income to the housing authority. But, by the time paperwork is verified, a resident might be back to work, owing back rent and late fees, Johnson says.
Noah Schwartz, executive director of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority, confirms that seasonal salaries have been an issue. “[Seasonal workers] would come in to report a change in income, we’re required to verify it. …There were some cases where it looked like by the time the verifications returned…there clearly appeared to be a lag at some point.”
Schwartz says they’ve reached a solution by annualizing residents’ income. “As far as I know that problem’s been resolved.”
But spreading out nine months of income over 12 months could be exacerbating budgeting issues for the very low-income residents, whose earnings average $12,000 per year. The housing authority will soon offer free finance management training for its residents.
The lag time it takes to verify a resident’s employment status isn’t limited to seasonal workers. One resident, Audrey Oliver, says she’s been waiting seven months to get a rent adjustment. To get an adjustment, residents must show that a decrease in income will last for longer than 30 days, and the housing authority must verify that with employers. Schwartz says, “There are some employers who simply won’t give us responses. We have to try three times.”
Schwartz also says there’s no mandated deadline for adjusting rent.
“They can always go back and do retroactive rent,” Oliver says, but the housing authority has “no trust for the client,” since they keep charging rent and late fees until the proper paperwork comes through.
While residents are grateful for the $17,000 donation, they’re frustrated at the implication that residents are irresponsible. Johnson says that of the dozens of families helped by the donation, only a handful were willfully trying to play the system.
“Bailing us out?” Johnson asks incredulously. “[IMPACT’s] bailing the housing authority out.”
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Correction, May 7, 2007:
Due to a reporting error in “Westhaven residents air complaints,” Government News, April 24, 2007, we incorrectly stated that “a generous donation from IMPACT, a group of local faith congregations, paid off $17,000 in overdue rent for nearly 80 residents of city public housing.” In fact, the money was given directly by several local congregations, only some of which are aligned with IMPACT (Interfaith Movement Promoting Action by Congregations).