More than 5,000 people are currently waiting for apartments or housing choice vouchers through the Mobile Housing Board, Executive Director Dwayne Vaughn recently confirmed in an email message.
Although vouchers and rentals mean revenue for the authority, the MHB was unable to award vouchers to 4,808 people following a June 23-27 application window, Vaughn wrote, when a total of 6,257 people applied. There are also 668 people currently waiting for apartments in MHB’s 12 complexes.
The wait time on the voucher list, which allows low-income renters and families rental assistance in a private complex, is anywhere from 12 to 24 months, Vaughn wrote.
“The challenge to providing more families with housing does not stem from the number of families on the public housing waiting lists, although several properties could benefit from more robust waiting lists,” Vaughn wrote. “Rather, the challenge is the desirability of the communities, along with the age of the properties, their obsolete infrastructure and a reduction in the federal funding MHB receives that makes it difficult to spend the resources necessary to make apartments ready for rent.”
The amount of money required to make some of the MHB apartments ready to lease runs anywhere from $1,000 to more than $30,000, he said, explaining “these circumstances are part of the reasons MHB is embarking on the Housing Transformation Plan 2020 and pursuing the Rental Assistance Demonstration program.”
The housing board can receive as much as $61.74 in administrative fees per voucher issued. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has funded MHB for 3,368 of 4,167 regular vouchers. However, the HUD payment is prorated, meaning MHB only receives about 81 percent of the related administrative fees.
“The amount of financial resources available for [housing choice vouchers] is appropriated by Congress each year,” he explained. “The current congressional allocation does not allow sufficient funding for MHB to lease the maximum number of vouchers which it is authorized to issue by HUD.”
MHB is also funded with 134 vouchers from two other programs, out of a total of 145. The administrative fee amounts for the two additional programs are the same.
During the December board meeting, Commissioner Kim Pettway said she was “troubled” by the size of the waiting lists. She said the board is in the business of providing housing and should “do what it takes” to accomplish it.
“At some point we have to say ‘let’s step over the hurdles …,” Pettway said. “I just can’t accept that we can’t do it.”
MHB Chairman Don Langham said the issue boils down to money, while Commissioner Joyce Freeman said other issues, such as a prospective tenant’s willingness to turn in all of the required paperwork or submit to a background check, factor in as well.
Vaughn cited other elements in the difficulty of housing some families through the voucher program.
“Some voucher families face challenges when renting in the private sector due to income criteria, criminal background, credit, prior landlord references and the amount of rents charged by the landlord,” he said. “Even so, most families are successful in leasing units.”
In other business, the MHB recently elected officers for 2016. Langham and Melvin Clark were elected chairman and vice chairman, respectively, by 3 to 2 margins. Pettway and Norman Hill were the dissenting votes. Pettway nominated Hill for chairman and Hill nominated Pettway for vice chairman. Following the vote, Clark asked his fellow commissioners to do “anything we can to support the agency” and “not tear it down.”
The board approved a $321,332 two-year contract to help pay a portion of fees related to activities for residents. The contract breaks down to about $160,000 per year and is paid to the Boy Scouts for $14,751, the Boys and Girls Clubs for $107,964 and Via! at $37,950.
Pettway questioned if it was truly the best way to spend activities money, or if it would be better put toward housing families. Adline Clarke, vice president of the MHB’s independent, nonprofit partner Mobile Development Enterprises, told commissioners that without these services, children and seniors wouldn’t have many opportunities for recreation.
Vaughn explained the money to the Boys and Girls Clubs gives MHB youth access to recreation, tutoring, computer labs and specialty programs. According to his numbers, more than 576 clients participate in the Boys and Girls Clubs through the MHB’s program. Similarly, more than 131 residents participate in Via! programs and 88 participate in Boy Scouts. Vaughn called the costs “reasonable,” citing a typical $25-per-month fee to join the YMCA for someone under the age of 18.