Right now the Louisville Metro Housing Authority (LMHA) is slogging through the formulation of its 2013 annual plan.
It’s 70-plus pages of policy tinkering and public housing prose, not exactly the stuff that tantalizes most people, unless you’re the Metropolitan Housing Coalition, then you’re highly invested and fairly ticked off. The advocacy group works to ensure adequate, affordable housing for all.
Here’s a portion of a letter sent to the Metro Housing Authority by MHC’s executive director, Cathy Hinko. (Capitalization and Bold print included in letter.):
“LMHA HAS CONDUCTED A DECADES LONG CAMPAIGN TO DISINVEST IN LOWEST INCOME FAMILIES AND PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES WHICH VIOLATES FAIR HOUSING LAWS
LMHA has blasted families out of their homes time and again. College Court, LaSalle Place, Cotter and Lang Homes, Clarksdale, Iroquois Homes and now Sheppard Square. The number of units serving families has diminished substantially. The replacement family units most often have higher economic and social entry criteria. Two thirds of the replacement units for Sheppard Square will have these higher criteria.
This targeting affects households with female heads of household, households with children and African American households. The number of units for the elderly have increased so substantially, that LMHA has to use a waiver to lower the age in the definition of elderly. Families and persons with disabilities are the target and familial status and disabilities provisions of the Fair Housing Act are violated by this sustained campaign. LMHA’s waiting lists reflect the need for family housing units, including a growing demand for larger units, including four bedroom units.”
The letter goes on to state that over the last two decades, LMHA has decreased its public housing units for families by 1,500, or about 33 percent of the total 4,400 family units that stood before Cotter and Lang Homes got knocked down in 1996. (Cotter and Lang marked the first of four public housing complexes to be demolished.)
In a response to Hinko’s letter, Barry assures that LMHA looks out for all protected classes. And that the agency’s strategy for some time has been to replace the oldest, most distressed housing stock first, which happens to be family units. He also reiterates LMHA’s commitment to eventually replacing all apartments, a process known as “one-for-one.” But that can take several years, especially at a time when federal HUD dollars are dwindling.
MHC also takes issue with LMHA’s decision to continue turning more units into elderly-only housing. The agency plans on applying for that designation at apartments previously reserved for elderly and/or disabled persons. The timing throws Hinko off, as many elderly housing sites have struggled to sustain occupancy. Recntly, LMHA actually dropped their “elderly” qualifying age to 55 as a means to fill the units.
Hinko’s frustration continues with the fact that LMHA maintains its practice of diverting 5 percent of its Section 8 funds to supplement other programs (despite thousands sitting on a list, waiting for a Section 8 voucher that will cover a portion of their rent), including HOPE VI projects, like the one currently refashioning the old Sheppard Square housing project into a “mixed-income” housing site.
“The basic question is ‘what is so important that it is worth keeping 1,100 families/individuals homeless for a year?’ Of course, LMHA’s policy to not have to be accountable if less than 20% of their monies are reallocated means that we never get to see this deliverable that is of such importance that human misery of this scale is a price we are willing to pay.”
A final frustration, for advocates (and reporters alike), lies in LMHA’s plans to close its Section 8 waiting list. In doing so, the need (i.e. backlog) of folks waiting for housing assistance would be much harder to measure. In other words, stories that include facts like — 15,000 people sit on the section 8 waiting list — could no longer exist.
Who wins in that scenario?
In response to MHC’s concerns, LMHA Executive Director Tim Barry says the agency has decided to keep the wait list open “for now.”