I find it both interesting and disappointing how the public observes a specific negative housing situation and correlates that directly with a housing choice voucher (Section 8) family. During the last few years staff at our agency has noted that 9 out of every 10 calls or emails we receive concerned about a home or apartment that the caller believes to be a Section 8 client, are not. We then try to assist the caller to find other resources to deal with the problem in their community, but our jurisdiction is very limited. Section 8 families usually know that their subsidy is at great risk when they don’t keep up the home or the yard; or allow disruptive or criminal activity to occur in and around their home. Often times, once you lose the subsidy for those reasons, you likely won’t get it again.
However, if and when the agency does get a legitimate complaint about an actual program client, staff goes into investigative mode. Recently, I received a complaint about a client’s children, and I went out and visited the property several times to observe what was happening with the children. I even visited the home on a Saturday evening; and our staff counseled the family on exerting greater control over the children and their friends. This home had become a playground for all of the kids in the community, and it disrupted the family next door. This type of mediation is a benefit of the program, among many others.
There are almost 200,000 households in our county, and about 1,700 voucher holders. That is less than 1% of all households, and more than half of those are elderly or disabled; which surprises many outside of our agency when we reveal that data. Section 8 families are very few and far between, and their voucher is a precious commodity. When you combine all of this data, it is not surprising that 9 out of 10 calls prove not to be voucher holders. There are market rate owners and renters who do not take care of their homes and units, or who commit crime and disrupt neighborhoods. It is more often than not, one of those families who create the negative image of the Section 8 program, which is unfair.
Clifton Martin is the Chief Executive Officer at Housing Commission of Anne Arundel County. He has more than 30 years experience in asset and property management, including more than 20 years experience with federal and state housing programs. He has served a variety of volunteer roles, including President of the Maryland Association of Housing (MAHRA), Vice-President of Professional Development at National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO) and President at the Middle Atlantic Regional Council of NAHRO.