The Talk about Augusta Housing Violations as Reported

The Talk about Augusta Housing Violations as reported by Augusta, Georgia’s main source for news coverage. This is the story that was published by the Augusta Chronicle. The same meeting in which the Rhodes Porter Posts wrote the article titled “Don’t Blame the Section 8 Tenants, Blame the Homeowner”

City holds talks on housing violation ‘disconnect’
By Susan McCord

Augusta officials are narrowing in on a fix for the city’s problem with unkempt residential properties –only some of which is tied to heavy use of Section 8 vouchers.

Augusta Commission members, appointed officials and the Augusta Housing Authority met jointly Thursday for the first time in several years to look for ways to address what the public often assumes is tied to subsidized housing.

“We’re all ears,” authority Chairman Rodger Murchison said at the meeting. “Sharing information” is key to the effort, he said.

The authority administers 3,702 Section 8 properties, more than agencies in Columbus, Savannah and Macon, and its members are appointed by the mayor. Additional units such as Bon Air and Richmond Summit apartments are overseen by a state Housing and Urban Development office.

Rob Sherman, the deputy planning and development director, said a “disconnect” occurs when the city notes code violations – or they’re called into 311 –but doesn’t know whether the case can be referred to the housing authority. The authority can withhold Section 8 payment in problem cases.

Authority member David Steele wanted the authority to immediately start setting a deadline to act on problem Section 8 properties. It can’t identify Section 8 properties because of privacy laws, but it can tell the city that addresses are not Section 8, he said.

Steele said the authority needed more than the three inspectors it employs to check these properties – that’s more than 1,000 per year each, he said.

Shortly after the meeting, the authority announced that HUD had rated it a “high performer” for the fiscal year ending in March for management of Section 8. The rating means Augusta scored a 90 or better in housing quality, quality control, enforcement, family self-sufficiency and other factors. It also won a $150,695 annual grant to achieve family self-sufficiency.

In enforcement, the authority terminated 651 families from the Section 8 program last year for breaking the rules, and the average length of time a family uses the vouchers is 4.5 years, Executive Director Jacob Oglesby said at the meeting.

Properties in violation often are not Section 8. Oglesby said that in a recent “sweep” of McDuffie Woods only four of 30 rental properties were Section 8.

Closing Gilbert Manor didn’t increase participation much because most residents sought to relocate in other public housing, although more sought vouchers relocating from the now-closed Cherry Tree Crossing, he said.

The closures have coincided with what Terry Norman of the Richmond County Marshal’s Office said was a dramatic increase in case volume. The office can’t “profile” Section 8 properties for problems but often finds homes not visited by a landlord in years.

Elizabeth Jones, the director of Shiloh Community Center, said her agency received $70,000 in grant funds to help Cherry Tree residents transition to more independent living but couldn’t force them to attend the classes.

Buddy Oldfield, the authority’s director of resident services, said many Cherry Tree residents wanted to try Section 8 living but found it too challenging and went back to public housing.

Commissioner Marion Williams said he’d had to call law enforcement more than 10 times about a Section 8 home playing extremely loud music. The authority should be “making sure they follow the rules or don’t be there,” Williams said.

“If it is Section 8, what are we going to do to correct that? It’s just too many,” he said. “We’re trying to clean this city up. You don’t have to be nasty.”

Commissioner Bill Lockett said he was barely able to get a neighboring Section 8 home’s tenants “trained” to maintain the property’s exterior before they move because of landlord neglect. Oglesby said the address had seen seven families in 13 years.

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