I have been so busy the last few weeks that I have not had time to keep my eye on the Housing Authority. Every year at this time, they send around their Annual Plan for comment to be approved by their board in October. The Annual Plan is mandated by the federal government that every housing authority must complete in order to lay out all policy initiatives and capital projects for the next year. Usually only the Homeless Coalition, the Tenants Organization, and Legal Aid Society make any comment at all. This year, I did not get a chance to be a part of the process until the last day of public comment--Friday.
CMHA actually has a very good public process for gathering comments. They listen to us and make changes based on our input. Sure there a few things that we disagree on, but they still seem to be respectful of their partners and constituents. We believe that this planning process is healthy and we think CMHA does treat us with respect. I really believe that the agency is better because they run things by us before making mistakes.
So, they have put out their plan. Here are the highlights of the changes:
- They clarified the preference for those facing a natural disaster, which was always very confusing.
- They got rid of their confusing policy for those with a voucher that gave a preference to those working.
- They have passed along the federal rules making athletic scholarships part of a student's income.
- They are designating a building in Garden Valley for seniors (50 years old and older) only.
- They are adopting the federal rules from the Violence Against Women Act.
- They are clarifying the rules regarding recertification.
- We do not agree that some properties that are privately owned and have a set number of vouchers attached to some of their units, a landlord can go outside the existing 6,000 person voucher waiting list for tenants. After a landlord interviews 5 candidates and they find these 5 from the waiting list not acceptable they can go find their own tenants.
- We believe that they need to put more language into protect women who have experienced domestic violence as part of the Violence Against Women Act.
- We are always opposed to the designation of some buildings for only those 50 years and older. Sure, those 50 years and older are easier tenants to serve, but the overwhelming need in Cleveland is by tenants under 50 years of age. CMHA has designated over 20% of their total housing units for seniors, but the market is effectively serving this population. I do not understand why the City of Cleveland allows this continued loss of housing for the vast number of single people under 50 years of age looking for housing.
- Finally, we always oppose the designation of minimum rents for the agency. To the public this is good to force people to pay some small amount for housing. "No one should get anything for free in our society," and all that welfare reform crap that we keep hearing. The problem is that residents who have no money are entitled to file for a hardship exemption. How do they do that if they are not told or it is difficult to get this information? It is similar to passing a tax on only those smokers who enter the two stadiums to pay for the buildings, but everyone pays the tax upon entry. Then if you do not smoke, you must go fill out a form to be exempt from the tax. What is the reason for charging people if they have a right to be exempt? While reviewing their case every year, just give them the rent that they deserve based on their income.
- Close the public housing waiting list. It makes no sense to keep taking applications for housing when it will take five years for the person filling out an application today who is under 50 to get offered a unit. We suggest taking applications only from those who are over 50 years of age or older.
- Figure out a way to accept public comments via the internet, and have those read into the record and included at the end of the Annual Plan on the website.
- Also, since only a few people comment, the CMHA Board should answer the comments and explain why they reject our suggestions.
- The agency should figure out a way to support the affordable housing website in the future as a tool for both landlords in the program and tenants.
- CMHA needs to gather supporters to demand from HUD a real budget to improve the housing for those with lower incomes in the poorest city in America.
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.