In the midst of renovating the last of its boarded-up units, the county Housing Authority is trying to increase its stock of public housing with 25 new homes.
The agency, which has spent the past year struggling to overcome high vacancy rates, lax maintenance and a legacyof administrative mistakes, is seeking a federal grant to buy more public housing.
More than 1,400 of the county's poorest households are waiting toget into public housing. Another 2,331 families have applied for Section 8 rental assistance. The majority spend more than half their incomes on rent, far above the 30 percent considered affordable.
Eventhough 5 percent of the county's 1,026 public housing units remain vacant, Larry A. Loyd, the new director, said he believes the agency has turned the corner. His confidence that it could handle additional units persuaded the governing board to approve the grant request Thursday night.
"I'm optimistic about where we are and what we're doing," Loyd said, responding to a commissioner's skepticism about takingon the additional responsibility. "I consider this a challenge to beable to do this, and I feel we can accomplish it."
Loyd also persuaded the board to approve an application for a sister grant, which would give the agency 25 more Section 8 certificates to rent homes on the private market.
County housing officials have been faulted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the past for failing to use certificates as quickly as possible. The authority had50 unused Section 8 certificates last December, but the number has dropped to less than 20 now, Loyd said.
Commissioner Robert C. Scharf questioned whether the agency should embark on buying more homes and obtaining extra Section 8 certificates at a time when it is still resolving problems with both programs.
Less than six months ago, about 10 percent of the public housing apartments were empty, the majority in the two family communities, Meade Village and Freetown. Most of the complexes also still need a face lift, Scharf pointed out.
"I just would like to improve the overall condition of the physical (places) we have," he said. "Before we branch out, I would just like to see us improve our inventory of housing."
Board Chairman CharlesSt. Lawrence explained that the funding for renovations is completely separate from the grants to buy additional housing.
The expansion program hinges on beginning a self-sufficiency program to get residents out of subsidized housing and into low-cost rental homes in the private market, Loyd said. Project Self-Sufficiency is an ambitious new HUD program to help poor families leave welfare or low-paying jobsfor a better life.
Housing officials will meet with social workers, job training officials and schoolteachers to develop a comprehensive program, Loyd said.
The 25 new homes would be scattered across the county and used for transitional housing. Public housing tenants who moved into the homes would be asked to take care of the upkeep, Loyd said.
While saying he approved of the self-sufficiency program, Scharf said he could not justify the grant application.
Zadia Dailey, who lives in Freetown and serves on the board, also voted against the plan. She said the authority should focus its energies on fixing up the existing units.