The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

June 25, 2008

AMHA, Section 8 get bad rap

By CARL E. FEATHER - Lifestyle Editor -

The availability of subsidized housing is often implicated as one of the most powerful inducements for people to come to Ashtabula County and live off the dole. It’s a line Jim Noyes, executive director of the Ashtabula Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) often hears, just as the authority gets blamed for the state of all the county’s housing.

Noyes points out that, of the 43,792 housing units in Ashtabula County, only 2.7 percent of them are subsidized through AMHA. In terms of rental units, AMHA subsidizes 6.3 percent of the county’s total. The rest are outside AMHA’s jurisdiction, including the new low-income housing developments in the city.

“We get blamed for everything, any housing issue,” he says. “As far as (the) housing authority is concerned, we have a very small chunk of this market, and the housing authority is not looking to expand.”

Noyes says the 1,218 AMHA-assisted units include 623 Section 8 properties. Section 8 is a federal housing assistance program for low-income and disabled individuals.

“We have to assist the people we are told we have to assist financially,” Noyes says.

Under Section 8, renters pay 30 percent of their adjusted monthly family income for rent, and the taxpayer subsidizes the balance. Noyes says the program, which runs between 98 and 102 percent of capacity in Ashtabula County, is popular. An applicant can expect to spend up to two years on the county’s waiting list for housing assistance. Noyes says a lot depends on the number of bedrooms needed and the turnover in the system.

Section 8 housing must pass inspections.

“Section 8 is so well inspected, the criteria for being part of the Section 8 inspection is so good, so thorough, a person able to get into it, once they get a house, they are going to enjoy living in it,” says Richard Pepperney, executive director of Community Action.

As with Section 8, getting into public housing often involves a long wait. Noyes does not see these waits as an indication people are migrating to Ashtabula County to take advantage of cheap housing, however.

“It’s just what it is,” he says. “The fact is, Ashtabula County is a low-income county. There are no jobs here. We don’t have the Lake County economy, we don’t have the Geauga County economy, we don’t have the jobs.”