Housing options

Section 8 housing communities may seem like an urban trend, providing low-income housing in crowded metropolitan areas.

But in Washington County about 880 households are also living in Section 8 housing or receiving housing assistance vouchers-about 3.5 percent of the county’s population- with another 1,200 families on a voucher waiting list.

“The housing we call Section 8, there’s not enough of it here to fill the need,” said Sandi Morrison, property manager of Ridgewood Apartments in Marietta. “It’s important for people who are just starting out making low wages, because it is difficult to make it.”

Officials with the Department of Housing and Urban Development credit the housing options with keeping millions of people nationwide from being homeless, one of the largest preventative tools in the battle against homelessness.

Last year, there were 12,325 homeless people in Ohio, and without the options offered under the HUD umbrella, another 250,000 Ohioans would likely have be on the streets, estimated Tom Leech, HUD field office director in Columbus.

Even in a small, more rural community like those in Washington County, there are options available for families and individuals who need a place to live on a low income.

Section 8 Communities

One option for those looking for housing assistance is through project-based Section 8 communities, which are specific locations and units that are subsidized based on income.

Unlike the voucher program, these locations are pre-determined and federally inspected and recorded by HUD.

HUD requires rent to be paid using whatever the highest amount is; 30 percent of the tenants’ family monthly adjusted income or 10 percent of the tenants’ family monthly gross income.

In Washington County the focus is on family, as the several properties located throughout the area are multi-family housing units, but also accept disabled and elderly clients.

Ridgewood Apartments in Marietta is one such place, holding some units still available for people not on assistance.

“Our income-based units are always filled, and we use a waiting list,” said Morrison.

Ridgewood, Colonial Terrace, Jaycee Estates and Morningside Apartments are the four multi-family housing communities found in Marietta. In New Matamoras, people can seek out Parkway Townhouses or Riverpark Manor, and in Belpre there is Laurel Estates and Putnam Howe Village.

Places like Ridgewood are more geared toward affordable, low-income housing as well, where rent is not subsidized. Non-subsidized housing is available for anyone, as Ridgewood itself holds 66 apartments available that are not rented based on income.

In Marietta, 20 percent of people who utilize housing assistance are elderly, 60 percent are disabled, which is higher than the state average, and 37 percent are a female head of household with children.

In Ohio, 81,753 people are currently living in project-based Section 8 communities. In Washington County, there are about 500 households.

“Ohio is always one of the top states in the nation for housing assistance need,” Leach said. “But the programs we do have really are excellent.”

Ohio is third behind New York and California for the amount of people using multi-family housing assistance.

Misty Stanley, a resident of Colonial Terrace apartments, said these kinds of communities are necessary.

“Without this housing there would be a lot more homeless people,” she said. “There’s a lot of single moms out there that need the help, because it really is hard to make it these days.”

Housing Choice Voucher

Washington-Morgan Community Action contracts with the city of Marietta to administer the housing choice voucher program, which unlike other options, is not based on a designated area or living community, but on a tenant’s choice of where they want to live.

To utilize this program, a household-family, elderly or disabled-must apply through Community Action and be put on a waiting list, which is weighted upon need.

Being a veteran, having a disability or being homeless all add points to the scale to bump a household up on the waiting list.

“It can take some time to get a voucher,” said Carrie McNamee, senior and community services program director.

McNamee said the weighted list usually holds about 1,200 people at a time, and the vouchers are currently serving 380 people.

Eligibility is based on total annual gross income, as a household income may not exceed 50 percent of the median income for the county, which is $43,829 in Washington County according to U.S. Census numbers.

Once a person reaches the top of the waiting list and funding becomes available, they are given a voucher that gives them 60 days to find housing. As long as the landlord accepts the payment and the location passes the Community Action inspection, the family or individual can move in.

“People are finding things right now, and the housing market is getting more difficult,” McNamee said.

The voucher program stipulates that a tenant on assistance cannot pay more in rent than a tenant that is not on assistance.

The rent paid by a tenant using a voucher varies by location, but is often the gross rent for a unit minus 30 percent of the household’s adjusted income, according to Leach.

“In the end, it does prevent homelessness, because it assists people who otherwise wouldn’t have a place to rent,” McNamee said. “Without a lot of local shelters, there’s not a lot of places to go.”

Vouching locations are not publicized by HUD, because they are inspected by the local housing authority and are maintained by private landlords.

The number of people using vouchers in Washington and Morgan counties makes up about 0.05 percent of the total population of the two counties, and 96,533 people use the vouchers in the state of Ohio.

Inspections

Project-based housing units are funded and inspected by HUD, and the frequency of an inspection is based on what the property most recently received as a score.

Properties are given a score on a standard zero to 100 scale, with 70 being considered a failing score.

“We do a representative sample of the property, and check for things like a working smoke detector, electric things like light switches, water dripping and mold, safe fire escapes,” Leach said.

Anything not passing inspection that is considered a safety issue must be repaired within 24 hours.

“The inspection is just meant to be a snapshot,” Leach said. “There might be something wrong, but it has to be fixed.”

Those numbers, Leach points out, are more there for regulation purposes that give a point-in-time view.

“A lower score shouldn’t automatically mean it’s a bad place,” he said.

Anyone wishing to view inspection scores may call, email or mail the local HUD office in Columbus and request the information, where explanations of a property’s scores can be detailed. The scores without explanation can be viewed at portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/physical_inspection_scores.

The Marietta Times made a request for more detailed inspection information for Washington County housing sites but information had not yet been received Friday.

In Ohio, 96,533 people use housing choice vouchers and 81,753 live in project-based Section 8 communities.