Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Housing Advocate Cries Foul As New Landlord Buys Apartment Complex Subject To Section 8 Contract With HUD, Then Announces That It Will No Longer Accept Rent Subsidies Without Allegedly First Giving Tenants 1-Year Notice Required By Statute; Dozens Of Poor Residents Now In Fear Of Possible Near-Term Boot

In Garner, North Carolina, WTVD-TV Channel 11 reports:
  • Dozens of tenants at Forest Hills Apartments in Garner are fearing the worst after being notified last week that their public assistance would no longer be honored starting the first of April.

    "It should not be that easy for someone to come and just say, 'OK, I have enough money to buy this property, I want you out,'" one woman told town leaders at a meeting last night.

    At least one expert says it may not be that easy.

    Dave Layfield, CEO of Affordable Housing Online, said "It would appear this displacement is unlawful." Layfield profiled Forest Hills and wrote this FAQ on the rights and benefits tenants have.

    "I strongly encourage existing tenants not move until they consult with HUD about their rights," Layfield said. "Very often, new owners of Project-Based Section 8 properties are unaware of the regulations and protections afforded their tenants."

    "It could be completely innocent," Layfield said. "Sometimes, purchasers just ignore the law in an attempt to get higher-rent-paying tenants into their new investment. It could be this is their first experience with Project-Based Section 8 and are unfamiliar with the Uniform Relocation Act requirements associated with the program."

    Layfield said that under current law, tenants must receive notice that the owner is not renewing a subsidy contract with the government one year prior to the contract expiration.

    "If tenants did not receive such a notice," he said, "my understanding is the owner must continue charging the tenant only the amount they paid under the HAP contract until proper notice has been sent," and the one-year waiting period has expired.

    "42 U.S.C. Section 1437f (c)(8)(a) established the notice requirement," Layfield offered. "(8)(b) of the same paragraph establishes that if the required notice is not sent, the owner 'may not evict the tenants or increase the tenant's rent payment until such time as the owner has provided the notice and one year has elapsed.' So, if the previous owner did not send the proper notice at least one year ago, the lease termination letter ... is not in compliance with the statute."

    Layfield encouraged tenants to see whether they're eligible for Tenant Protection Vouchers, which he says "effectively gives them a portable housing voucher that they can use at their current property to pay the increased rent or take to another property."
    ***
    But it's not just the fear of having to leave; it's the worry of where people will go. Local experts say there is a stark shortage of subsidized housing units in Wake County.

    Debra King, Executive Director at CASA, a non-profit dedicated to finding affordable housing for people who need it, says their waiting list is 1,000 people long. What's more, King says her organization runs a 1 percent vacancy rate; there's very little turnover.

    King said the problem with housing vouchers in general is that they're hard to get in the first place and that many landlords don't take them. But King says according to local data, 43 percent of renters have difficulty affording their homes. She said in Wake County, the average price for a modest, two bedroom apartment is $918. The average renter, on the other hand, can only afford $750, according to NCHousing.org.

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