Scores of low-income families can't find landlords willing to rent to them

Scores of low-income families can't find landlords willing to rent to them

August 28th, 2012 by Yolanda Putman in News

Terrie Robbins, property manager of the Park Terrace and Park Village apartments in Brainerd, and Valerie Brown, right, manager of the Catholic Charities of East Tennessee housing counseling program talk about the SMART program. Robbins has agreed to accept applications from people who complete the Smart Money and Rental Tools program taught by Brown.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.


Join Catholic Charities SMART landlord and tenant program by calling 423-267-1297, ext. 1606. Also visit on Facebook at Chattanooga SMART Landlords and receive landlord information and contacts.

Robert Dunlap and his mother are among six families remaining at Chattanooga's Harriet Tubman public housing site.

It's been more than a year since Chattanooga Housing Authority officials announced that the site would be vacated and sold.

But the Dunlaps haven't moved yet because they were unable to find a landlord willing to accept the government-issued rental vouchers distributed to many of those who have been displaced from Tubman and other CHA housing sites.

Robert Dunlap looked for at least three months before finding a landlord willing to accept his payment for a two-bedroom apartment. The 2012 voucher payment is $628 for a two-bedroom apartment.

CHA officials said this month that 125 people have rental vouchers but have found no one willing to accept them.

"Once we put the vouchers on the street, we're at [landlords'] mercy," said Tammie Reeves. "We're just waiting for them to find a unit."

Housing officials are concerned because they plan to open the waiting list and issue 200 more vouchers in the first or second week of September.

Reeves said she suspects that some voucher holders may be having a difficult time finding a landlord because the housing authority reduced the amount it pays landlords for rent.

Dunlap said some of the landlords he asked wanted more money. One landlord wanted $100 more each month, he said.

Landlords leasing new units in January and thereafter took a 14 percent cut in rent. So instead of getting $1,039 for a four-bedroom apartment, the rental fee was reduced to $909. Instead of getting $718 for a two-bedroom unit, the payment is $628.

"HUD dropped payment standards last year, so what we will pay is lower," Reeves said. "So I feel like we lost a good many landlords to that. I'm hoping that [the payment standards] will come back up. HUD redoes that in October every year."

Catholic Charities housing counselor Valerie Brown said she talked to so many people who need apartments this year that she started a program this month called SMART to find landlords willing to take rent vouchers and accept tenants who may not meet credit check standards. She's offering free classes to teach residents about paying bills and improving their credit score.

SMART is an acronym for Sound Money and Rental Tools, Brown said.

The classes, which start Sept. 11, teach budgeting and financial management, how to take care of a property, how to be a good neighbor and information about the city's better housing policies and violations.

Brown is asking landlords to consider residents who take her six-hour course even if they don't pass a credit check.

Terrie Robbins, property manager at Park Village and Park Terrace Apartments, said she's willing to give it a try.

"A lot of tenants coming from Section 8 and housing complexes are not educated on how to live as a good neighbor and how to be civic-minded. Civics was taken out of school so some people don't know how to live to be good neighbors. I think this class will go a long way to teach that," she said.

More than 5,000 people have been on the voucher waiting list for two years. More than 1,800 are waiting for public housing, according to CHA.

CHA announced in March 2011 that it would vacate and sell the 440-unit Harriet Tubman, once the city's second-largest public housing site. CHA said it would cost too much to bring the site up to standard. Tubman was built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Now it looks like a ghost town with boarded-up windows and doors. A few stray cats and dogs sit on some porches. Roofs on some buildings are peeling, revealing rot underneath. On other buildings the metal trim around the roof is coming off, leaving materials dangling.

After three months of searching, Dunlap said he is happy to find a landlord willing to accept his voucher. He plans to leave the site as soon as he is packed.