The TYP held its seventh Public Conversation at 6pm on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at New Harvest Park. The topic was “KCDC, Affordable Housing, and the Homeless.” Mary Thom Adams acted as moderator. Deborah Taylor, KCDC’s Section 8 Director, delivered a presentation about KCDC and the Section 8 program. Alvin Nance, Executive Director of KCDC, and Billie Spicuzza, Senior Vice President of Housing for KCDC were present and answered questions and offered input. The meeting was attended by approximately 35 people and the conversation, once again, was respectful and extremely informative.
[These are my notes. If I've misrepresented anything here, or left out something you believe to be significant, please mention that in the comments below this post. Please tell us who you are and where you live.]
Attendees included several City Councilpersons: Duane Grieve, Daniel Brown, Nick Della Volpe, and former Councilman Barbara Pelot. Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles and former Commissioner Mark Harmon were present. My apologies if I’ve missed anyone. The format of this meeting was one hour. The first quarter hour, approximately, was used for presentation. The remainder was for conversation with attendees.
Ms. Adams, in her role as moderator, introduced Ms. Taylor and focused this meeting’s topic on KCDC, Section 8 and affordable housing. Ms. Adams said that she participates in these public conversations because she has a home, is thankful and blessed to have it, and has the good fortune to be able to work with people who need help to gain access to homes of their own.
Ms. Taylor: KCDC administers public housing, the Section 8 Housing Choice voucher program, and the Section 8 Moderate Rehab program. Mod Rehab (these are “project based vouchers,” and as such are tied to a particular facility) is an old program and is being phased out. There are presently only 82 Mod Rehab units in Knoxville/Knox County.
There are about 3600 Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers in Knox and Knox county. Section 8 Housing Choice is federally funded, and the program allows people to seek housing with private market landlords. Landlords select a tenant, fill out the appropriate paperwork, KCDC inspects the apartment, and if it’s deemed to be acceptable, then the landlord enters into a contract for that apartment with KCDC. The landlord enters into a lease agreement with the tenant. KCDC does not control the lease. It is the landlord’s responsibility to screen the tenant. If a tenant using a voucher is evicted for reasons related to crime, then KCDC will terminate the assistance.
KCDC issues 50-100 vouchers per month. Their priorities, in this order, are: people displaced from their housing by government action (construction projects, renovation of housing development, etc.); people displaced from their housing involuntarily (domestic violence is one example of this); people who are homeless; people who are disabled. Since June 2010, KCDC has housed 516 families (a “family” can have only one member, and so might be a single individual). 366 of those people came right off the streets. The rest were disabled. If you would like to know all about eligibility requirements, click here to view complete eligibility information here on KCDC’s website.
Demand for housing assistance is high. Every day, KCDC receives applications from people seeking vouchers.
The voucher program receives funding around March of every year. Sometimes the level of funding is sufficient that KCDC can just keep on issuing vouchers, but KCDC cannot under any circumstances exceed 3667 units in a year. Once a tenant is housed, they can remain in their housing until HUD cuts funding.
At this moment there are about 300 vouchers that have been issued in Knox. The people who were issued those vouchers are out on the street looking for housing. There are over 800 landlords in Knox County who accept vouchers, and a lot of them operate multiple units. 800 may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that their properties are often extremely small. There is a great need for affordable housing in our community.
KCDC educates people about housing resources available to them in the community For example, when people are looking for information about affordable housing, KCDC directs them to Tennessee Housing Search, a website that a lot of landlords use to list their housing. And KCDC also has literature for people at their offices.
There are over 3600 units of public housing in Knoxville. There is a very long waiting list for those, just as there is for Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers.
Ms. Taylor concluded her remarks and said that she would welcome questions about the Section 8 program. Ms. Adams introduced Billie Spicuzza and Alvin Nance at this point in the conversation, and mentioned that they are here to answer questions about, too.
Ms. Adams ended the presentation phase of the conversation and moved it into question and answer.
Councilman Della Volpe: KCDC’s direct relationship is with the landlord. Does KCDC continue to supervise quality of housing? Taylor: We inspect once a year as part of the recertification process, and each year the tenant has to be recertified too. We also interface directly with tenants’ neighbors. If we get a complaint, we contact the landlord, and where appropriate, law enforcement.
Councilman Grieve: How is the number of vouchers issued to Knoxville determined? Taylor: There are federal NOFAs (notices of funding availability) issued annually. We can apply for however many vouchers are made available in the NOFA. I also want to make clear that as far as KCDC is concerned, there is no distinction in types of homelessness. For purposes of our local preferences, we don’t distinguise between chronic homelessness and other types of homelessness.
Question: I come from Boston, originally. It sounds to me like you have a lot of vouchers in Knoxville. How many are project based? Taylor: None are project based anymore. Housing Choice vouchers simply go out into the market. Question: Is there a specific neighborhood oriented group that can give people info about how to get a voucher. Taylor: Our office is located in the Old Vine Middle School. They come in to apply. They are called in to a briefing, and that’s where they learn what they need to do.
Councilman Brown: How do you contact people who are on the waiting list? Taylor: They have to have an address. That could be at KARM, for instance. We have a good working relationship there. Most prospective tenants have some contact info. The vast majority of them are not very hard to get in touch with.
Ron Peabody: Of the 800 landlords you have, how many units does that represent in total? Taylor: Several landlords have multiple units. Peabody: Of the 366 vouchers issued since June, the bulk of those, how were they certified homeless? Taylor: Any social service agency can verify homeless status. Peabody: How will Hearth Act redefinitions affect availability? Mike Dunthorn: The Hearth Act was passed by Congress to make changes to McKinney Vento, but HUD hasn’t yet issued regulations. I understand your question, and it can’t be answered until the regulations are issued. Linda Rust: The definition of chronic homelessness will change to include families. Billie Spicuzza: HUD determines eligibility. They issue regulations that define eligibility for assistance. When that happens, we change how we make offers of vouchers. It won’t expand our number of units available, but it will reshuffle priorities. Rust: Hopefully HUD will make accommodation for that. Maybe there will be vouchers made available to help people in those new categories. Spicuzza: I don’t see a great impact on us. We’ll simply continue to house those people who continue to apply.
Councilman Della Volpe: Among the people housed by KCDC since June, is there a number that reflects the percentage in the total number housed who were homeless? Have you interfaced with HMIS (the Homeless Management Information System database) to find out how many were chronically homeless? Taylor: When we bring people in, we don’t distinguish types of homelessness. There are three preferences: Displaced by government action, involuntarily displaced, and homeless— doesn’t matter what kind. Then, permanently disabled. They apply for a voucher with verification of status. All of those services that verify homeless status use HMIS.
Councilman Grieve: The people moving into Minvilla right now—are they using vouchers? Will the rest have vouchers? Taylor: 12 do have vouchers. Anyone who has a voucher right now could move into Minvilla.
Joe Minichiello: Does my addiction have any effect on my application for assistance? Taylor: All applicants are screened. If any illegal drug activity has occurred over the last three years, the application will be denied. KCDC also screens through KPD and NCIC.
Question: Are there geographical restrictions for landlords? Taylor: That’s a good question. For KCDC, property has to be within in the Knox County. Others rental assistance providers, such as THDA and ETHRA, house outside Knox county.
Councilman Brown: Do you keep stats on people who come in homeless and then later become employed, and move back into society? Alvin Nance: That information is in our system and is used for purposes of recertification. We don’t mine the data, though, to track trends or anything like that.
Linda Rust: Do you get a lot of complaints about behavior? Taylor: No. Some weeks we get zero complaints, and others we get two or three. We subsidize rent, but we don’t enforce the lease. We’re not the landlord. It’s up to the landlord to enforce lease. If we get a complaint about a tenant’s behavior, we contact the landlord about their tenant. The lease is between tenant and landlord. Rust: Are there any landlords who have a preference for tenants who have case managers? Taylor: Anytime a tenant has a case manager attached to them, it’s a good thing for the landlord. They don’t tell us that, but that’s my opinion.
Councilman Della Volpe: Do you ever decertify landlords because they’re not doing a good job? Taylor: I’ve done that twice.
Peabody: My understanding is that tenants in the Section 8 program, if they’ve got income, they can actually only take up to 30% of their income. Taylor: If a tenant has income, they’ll pay no more than 30% of it for rent. If they rent a more costly place, HUD will let them spend up to 40%. Our voucher payment standards are 100% of fair market rent. Billie Spicuzza: All units don’t rent for the same amount. We compare a unit to other units like it, and we won’t approve you to get rent greater than what someone who’s not a subsidized property is getting. We’re never paying more than a private landlord is getting. We negotiate with the landlord.
Question: Is there a mechanism by which a landlord can lose a Section 8 contract due to neighborhood complaints? Sometimes landlords don’t care about what goes on with their property. Taylor: You can contact us and complain, and we’ll investigate, and if the landlord’s not doing what he’s supposed to do via the tenant, then he’s in violation of his contract.
Ron Peabody: Do you know how many chronically homeless you have housed? Mary Thom Adams: That question has already been answered. Peabody: How many different social service providers can get tenants into housing through KCDC? Taylor: Any social service agency can.
Joe Minichiello: Is there is a higher incidence of police activity among Section 8 voucher users? Lieutenant Pappas (of the Knoxville Police Department): Our investigation doesn’t uncover whether or not a person is using a voucher. We don’t ask a person, “By the way, are you using a voucher to help with the rent?” We just don’t capture that.
David Massey: Case managers have been assigned to some KCDC tenants, and the success rate for those tenants has been very high. Before, people who had been homeless turned over really fast. Having case managers has prevented people falling into homelessness again or being evicted to the streets. Mike Dunthorn: CAC has provided case management services in some KCDC towers. Prior to that program’s implementation, there’d been about 67 evictions per year. That’s now down to zero evictions to the street. Case management has clearly proven itself effective.
Ron Peabody: I thought the homeless were at the top of the preference list. Billie Spicuzza: KCDC’s local preference choices for the homeless have existed for a long, long time. If there were a disaster, or a road project, or something like that, then priorities would shift. Alvin Nance: It’s important to understand that the preferences we’re using are much older than the Ten-Year Plan, which isn’t a regulatory agency anyway. KCDC is federally funded, and we have regulatory oversight that’s not local.