As executive director of the Bayou La Batre Housing Authority (Safe Harbor), I read with great interest the recent article titled “Gulf Coast weighing implications of Trump’s budget proposal.” I was particularly interested in the subsection, “HUD cuts would impact Mobile.” Unlike many, I see this as a potential win-win for everyone. However, conventional wisdom will have to change, as will the current mindsets of many — such as politicians, HUD, board of directors, executive directors, housing staff, vendors and even residents.
I was hired as executive director in May 2013. In a short period of time, our team has turned a once-failing housing authority, saturated with crime, into a successful, thriving, non-subsidized affordable housing community that is in great demand. This was accomplished without any outside funding. Safe Harbor is representative of what the future of public housing can be, and serves as proof government-owned public housing can be affordable, self-supporting and operate in the black.
HUD determines the yearly Fair Market Rental Rates around the nation. HUD subsidizes housing based on these rental rates. Public housing and private landlords profit from these taxpayer-funded federal subsidies. Every year these rental rates increase and 2017 was no exception.
Our rent rates have not increased since August 2013 and they are well below HUD’s declared Fair Market Rental Rates for this area. The only source of our revenue is from our rent income and application fees. We receive no outside funding. None. Does this mean rental rates will never increase? No. Economics and logic dictate that rates will have to increase eventually. However, there are no current plans to increase rates. So how is this possible?
Rep. Bradley Byrne was correct when he said “they will have to make do with less and think outside the box.” At Safe Harbor, we operate under the following premises:
1. We respect the source of our revenue — the residents.
2. We never assume there will be more money. Be frugal without sacrificing quality.
3. We must be honest, ethical and transparent.
4. Board members and staff do not seek favors for self, family, friends, etc.
5. Vendors are expected to be fair, honest and ethical in their prices and service.
6. Our housing is scarce. Residents understand it is a privilege to live in Safe Harbor — not a right. They are expected to pay their rent on time, abide by the rules and maintain their home and yard.
Certainly this is not an all-inclusive list. However, it is the basic starting point for any and all entities — at least it should be. Because we are not dependent on federal subsidies, our operation and our residents will not be impacted by any funding cuts. While these budget cuts will be painful for many, this may be one of the kindest acts the federal government can perform.
Virginia Huddleston, Executive Director
Bayou La Batre Housing Authority