Come December, Paul Reynolds doesn’t know where he’ll live.
The longtime resident of Timberlyne Apartments was in a car accident several years ago and must use a wheelchair. He is also one of the many Orange County residents being forced out of his home because of changes in rental companies’ payment policies.
“I live by the Food Lion, the post office, the Rite-Aid. They’re close enough that I can roll right over there,” he said. “I don’t know where I’m going to go.”
In December, Timberlyne Apartments, which recently changed its name to 86 North Apartments, will no longer accept vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing Choice Voucher Program, which is also known as Section 8.
Representative from Timberlyne Apartments did not return requests for comment made outside normal business hours.
About 60 local families and counting are being forced out of their homes by private property owners’ decisions to no longer accept the vouchers, which are part of a program designed to help low-income families, the elderly and the disabled afford private housing. The vouchers supplement the cost of rent so tenants don’t have to spend more than 30 percent of their income on rent each month.
The towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are collaborating with Orange County to provide financial assistance to those families.
Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said in a press conference Tuesday it still won’t be enough. Action from the private sector — from companies that own and rent property — will be vital.
“The Supreme Court tells us that corporations are people,” he said. “So those corporations should have hearts.”
Kleinschmidt said over the past year as rental companies have changed their policies to no longer accept HCVs as partial payment, tenants who have lived in their apartments for years have had to leave to find new housing where their vouchers will be accepted.
“We are looking to find a solution to this for the long term,” Kleinschmidt said.
He said the town of Chapel Hill will make its current funding for affordable housing efforts available to those who have lost their homes because their vouchers weren’t accepted. Carrboro Mayor Lydia Lavelle said Carrboro will contribute $30,000 to that funding.
The two mayors also said the towns will attempt to educate local rental companies and property owners about affordable housing and the HCV program’s importance.
Many rental companies stopped accepting the vouchers as they upgraded facilities. The renovations would cause the companies to raise monthly rents, pushing the cost over the cap the companies are allowed to charge tenants in the Section 8 program, said James Davis, a civil rights specialist at Orange County NC Housing and Community Development.
Misconception about residents enrolled in the program also caused many private renters to abandon the voucher program, Davis said.
“That these people are ‘poor poor,’ that they don’t work,” he said.
Kleinschmidt said this misunderstanding is a major factor in barriers to affordable housing.
“One of the important myths is that these are folks who aren’t contributors,” he said. “There are more than 600 beneficiaries of the program in the area. These are people who have been vetted by the program, who are working, who have families to feed.”
The money from Section 8 vouchers are deposited directly in renters’ accounts each month, so there is no drawback to accepting the vouchers in place of cash or check, Kleinschmidt said.
Emily Gordon, a social worker in Orange County, said she knows several senior adults who have had trouble finding housing.
“One is sleeping in her car,” Gordon said.
Delores Bailey is executive director of Empowerment, Inc., an affordable housing advocacy and education non-profit. Bailey said 49 percent of those participating in Empowerment programming are HCV recipients.
“It has to do with the stigma that comes along with just the words ‘Section 8,’” she said. “We are saying ‘Because you have this label on you, you can’t be in our units.’”
Davis said refusing to accept the vouchers detracts from the communities and culture of Orange County.
“It’s about keeping a certain level of economic flow, a certain level of diversity, a certain level of visitors who feel welcome because they see someone who looks like them,” he said.
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