Lower rent subsidies from Washington New HUD rules: Move could help reduce concentration of poor in some neighborhoods.

October 31, 1997

NEW FEDERAL HOUSING legislation that reduces inflated Section 8 rent subsidies is welcome. Bringing these rents down to market level removes an incentive for landlords to do business only with the very poor who qualify for the subsidy program. It may stop landlords from bunching poor people together. Tenants and homeowners of varying income levels make for better neighborhoods.

The average market rent for an apartment in Baltimore is $559 a month. But the Department of Housing and Urban Development says the average subsidized rent paid in the city by a HUD Section 8 program participant is $761 a month. That extra $200 is why many private landlords greatly prefer Section 8 tenants.

These tenants are poor and too frequently have difficulty keeping up a household. Too many landlords unscrupulously pocket the additional rent money while spending very little of it to maintain their property.

But now local housing authorities are placing stricter rules on landlords who participate in the program to repair roofs and plumbing and get rid of roaches and rats. Tenants are being screened more carefully and are held to greater accountability to keep properties clean.

Those changes, however, do not alleviate the concentration of poverty that can occur when landlords seek only impoverished tenants who qualify for the higher rents subsidized by Section 8. The Patterson Park area has suffered greatly as investors paid rock-bottom prices for run-down houses and rented only to the poor.

That could change with the new HUD appropriations bill signed by President Clinton that reduces rent subsidies. Cutting Section 8 rents will also save the government $562 million this year and $1.6 billion over five years. The reduced rents may prompt some landlords to drop out of the program. But to keep Section 8 attractive, HUD will allow landlords to refinance their mortgages at lower rates.

These are steps that should have been taken before now. Section 8's name is mud in communities where it has mushroomed the number of poor residents. HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo deserves commendation for trying to salvage the program by correcting its flaws.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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