After seven years in her apartment, Dawn Lancaster will have to find a new home when her lease runs out in July.
Lancaster relies on a Section 8 housing voucher so she can afford her rent.
Lancaster’s Chapel Hill apartment is run by GSC Apartment Homes, one of the largest apartment management firms in Chapel Hill. The company recently stopped accepting Section 8 vouchers — forcing residents like Lancaster that rely on those vouchers to look for a new place to live.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is also known as Section 8, is designed to help low-income families, the elderly and the disabled afford private housing.
Private housing complex owners are not required to accept the vouchers.
GSC Apartment Homes operates nine apartment complexes in the Chapel Hill and Carrboro area.
Lancaster said she thinks people using the Section 8 vouchers are viewed as lazy, which she says is not always true.
“I’ve always been independent all my life,” she said. “I put in my time.”
She said she has loans to pay on top of monthly rent, making it difficult to find money for groceries. And her car doesn’t run, limiting her mobility.
A business decision
Terry Meyers, regional vice president at GSC Apartments, said the company was never meant to be a Section 8 housing provider.
Residents affected by the change will not have to move until their lease ends, he said.
The company has been renting to disabled people with Section 8 vouchers for a long time, but during the economic slump, it expanded its voucher acceptance program to include low-income families.
Meyers said the company’s recent choice to stop accepting Section 8 vouchers altogether was simply a business decision.
“We are not a Section 8 housing property,” he said. “We are a conventional property.”
A broader problem
Meyers said residents have complained about being forced to move.
He said he believes those affected by the change are finding alternative places to live.
Tish Galu, chairwoman at the Orange County nonprofit Justice United, said many residents in the area are facing the challenge of finding a new and affordable place to live.
Tara Fikes, director of the Orange County Housing Authority, said about 600 people in Orange County use Section 8 vouchers.
Galu said apartment complexes in communities like Pine Knolls and Northside used to be geared toward low-income families. Increasing property taxes led those complexes to renovate into higher-priced student housing — pushing out many low-income families.
“It’s not an affordable community,” Galu said. “If you don’t have housing that a variety of people can afford, we’re going to become a county of wealthy people…and not a lot of people in between.”
Galu said Justice United is working on increasing the supply of affordable housing as well as asking other apartment complexes to offer subsidies to low-income families.
“There will be hundreds of people that will be displaced as a result and nowhere for them to go,” Galu said.
Lancaster said she is already looking for a new place to live with affordable rent and one that accepts Section 8 vouchers. She said she would like to find an apartment on a bottom floor, maybe one with a washer and dryer.
But she just doesn’t know if she’ll find one.
“They want Chapel Hill to be more like…high class,” she said. “They just don’t want to be paying for Section 8 people.”
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