By Barney Blakeney
Charleston Housing Authority officials for the past several months have been meeting with tenants to inform them about restructuring that will change public housing as we know it. CHA General Counsel Melissa Maddox-Evans said the authority has adopted a program that allows public/private partnerships to invest in its properties as federal funding for housing continues to dry up. But as with most things new, residents are skittish.
Charleston City Councilman James Lewis admits uncertainty as to whether the new structure will benefit low income tenants. “It sounds like a good program, but everything that sounds good isn’t always good. I can’t be optimistic,” Lewis said.
Maddox-Evans said the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program adopted by the housing authority basically will work much as the section-8 program does. Financial subsidies will be tied to the unit rather than the tenant.
Occupants will get vouchers to assist with rental costs. She said most tenants will not see rent increases. The properties will be owned either by a public or private non-profit organization and managed by the housing authority. The partnerships allow the housing authority to upgrade its aging stock of public housing units as federal funding diminishes.
Maddox-Evans said there are no plans to impact any of the authority’s properties immediately, but all its properties will be involved in the program. Over the next several months the authority will evaluate its assets. The action at specific properties will be determined based on the needs of the property and financial resources. It will take two to three years before the first properties will be impacted, she said. Total conversion of the properties should be completed in 7-10 years, Maddox-Evans said.
Charleston City Councilman William Dudley Gregorie, a former Department of Housing and Urban Development executive, said apprehension about the program is understandable. As properties are redeveloped to allow possible mixed income opportunities an increased housing stock, some current residents will be displaced. And although they are guaranteed first options on the redeveloped properties, some of those residents may not return, Gregorie added candidly. But RAD is the only option on the table, he said.
Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg said there’s an understandable lack of trust on the part of tenants, but HUD appears to no longer want to be in the business of providing public housing. Adopting the RAD program is how the city can step up to the plate, he said. The city will ask the housing authority to do more to inform residents, he added. Maddox-Evans said additional meetings likely will be held later this summer.