August 20, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 34

News

Murray warns Housing Authority that proposed rent hikes could hurt immigrants and refugees

By Aaron Burkhalter / Staff Reporter

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Mayor Ed Murray has opposed a proposal to raise rents paid by some Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and Section 8 tenants.

Last month Murray sent a three-page letter to SHA Executive Director Andrew Lofton criticizing the proposed change, which would set a new rent structure for any tenant who is not elderly or disabled. Under the new system, called Stepping Forward, SHA rents start low but increase every couple of years until they are below market rent but higher than what tenants pay today.

Currently, per federal policy, SHA tenants pay 30 percent of their income. But the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has included SHA in Moving to Work, a program that allows a small slice of housing authorities across the country to experiment with rental systems to find more effective ways to help people move out of public housing (“The shock doctrine,” RC, July 2).

To coincide with the planned change in rent structure, SHA is also creating a workforce development program to help people find better paying jobs so they can afford market-rate housing.

Murray said the change could hurt immigrant and refugee families and people who do not speak English. He added that SHA lacks proof that the concept will work.

“Based on the information you have shared with my staff, I cannot support the changes contemplated in the Stepping Forward proposal,” Murray said in a letter to SHA July 31.

Murray offered to have the city’s Office of Housing and Office of Economic Development help research and design a different approach to help residents become self-sufficient.

SHA Deputy Executive Director Anne Fiske Zuniga said that SHA needs to consider the needs of the 9,000 households on a waiting list to get into buildings owned by SHA. To get Section 8

vouchers, people have to enter a lottery to make the waiting list. SHA last opened the waiting list in 2013 and received 24,000 applications for 2,000 spots.

SHA does not need approval from the mayor or Seattle City Council to proceed, but their input is valuable, Fiske Zuniga said.

“We have no interest in being crosswise with the city,” she said. “We’ve been great partners forever. Our goal is to be in a solid place where there’s good understanding on the part of the city of what we’re doing.”

SHA mailed information packets detailing the proposal to all residents on Aug. 18, including potential rent levels. Under the draft proposal, a studio apartment would cost $130 a month in the first year and increase every two years to $680 in the sixth year. A four bedroom apartment would start at $180 and increase to $1,060 in the sixth year.

SHA is holding community meetings to discuss the proposal with residents throughout September.

SHA officials said a change is necessary to address the high demand for housing with diminishing federal funding.

SHA has cut $16.3 million from its programs since 2011. In 2014, SHA’s budget is $172.8 million.

SHA provides Section 8 housing vouchers to about 9,000 households and provides apartments in SHA-owned buildings to 5,900 households.

The average person affected by the rent change has lived in SHA housing for eight years. About 25 percent of this population stays in the system for more than 10 years.

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