HUD lowers contribution to subsidies in Carroll Co.

Commissioners increase local share to help renters

October 18, 2004|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's program for providing rent subsidies to the area's neediest through funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had local officials scrambling this month to adjust to lower federal standards.

Days before the program was renewed Oct. 1, HUD changed the guidelines. Based on a phone survey, federal officials decided rents had decreased in the county, and they lowered the subsidy. The subsidy for a two-bedroom apartment declined from $915 to $847, for example.

That decision forced officials to rework their contribution.

"HUD published its fair market rents and reduced rents drastically," said Loretta Greenwell, the county housing program coordinator. "It was an almost $1 million cut that would have affected more than 100 people. Cuts were as much as $100 per rental unit."

Last week, at Greenwell's request, the county commissioners increased Carroll's payment standard from 100 percent of the fair market rent to 110 percent.

"We have people leased now with rents that are over 100 percent," Greenwell said. "Without the increase, there would be a drastic effect on tenants as well as landlords."

Through the HUD program, the county has 549 housing vouchers available. Most of those are in use, and many prospective tenants are on a waiting list.

The program requires tenants to pay 30 percent of the rent and utilities for their homes. Still, some working families cannot afford 30 percent of the monthly rent for a three-bedroom home, typically about $1,300, in the county.

Any vouchers the county does not use have to be returned to HUD.

"If our vouchers go down, our housing ability and our funds go down too," said Jolene G. Sullivan, county director of citizen services.

The waiting list, with several hundred tenants hoping for subsidized housing, makes officials unwilling to lose even one voucher. The higher rents coupled with the program's requirements that hold tenants responsible for timely rent payments and avoiding illegal activities have made the program more attractive to landlords, Greenwell said.

Subsidized housing is located throughout the county, but more often it is found in single homes rather than in Carroll's few apartment complexes. The county housing staff works closely with landlords to keep rents equitable, Greenwell said. The increased payments will help maintain rental stock.

Although the federal decision is final, Frank Johnson, the county's director of legislative services, has written HUD detailing the county's concerns about the change in policy. He disputed the survey that showed lower housing costs in Carroll.

"These results do not comport with reality," Johnson wrote.

"Every other study, including property assessment data, makes it clear that Carroll County home values and rental costs have dramatically increased," he said. "Some studies indicate that rental housing costs have increased by as much as 17 percent in one year."

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