The Dallas Morning News ran a story by Kim Horner on June 23 about 500 Section 8 vouchers that have gone unused. Since the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA) has more than 8,000 families on the waiting list and closed the waiting list for new applications four years ago I wondered what on earth was going on.
Like most housing stories the facts behind this story are complex.
Kim Horner reports that the 500 Section 8 vouchers are what is left over from a pool of 3,205 that were set aside as part of the landmark Dallas Housing Authority desegregation lawsuit. I don’t have room to go into the details of the lawsuit here. The short version is that when the federal court ordered DHA to tear down a bunch of public housing in West Dallas the housing authority was ordered to replace the housing with new public housing in North Dallas neighborhoods that were higher income, virtually all white communities. Then DHA Director Alfonso Jackson (later HUD Secretary under President Bush) hit a brick wall of neighborhood opposition to the building public housing in North Dallas from white homeowners associations. Only one modest project got built after years of lawsuits between homeowners and DHA. Section 8 vouchers were a way to let tenants find housing in private apartments in these North Dallas neighborhoods.
So the first thing to be clear about is that these vouchers are part of a court ordered remedy to the discrimination that was suffered by African-American households from the decades of substandard housing and segregation endured at the hands of the DHA. They are not just a general pool of unused vouchers.
But the DMN story reported…
So why does it also have 500 special rent vouchers going unused?
DHA boss Ann Lott says some on the list have tried to use the vouchers – which are reserved for blacks willing to move to predominantly white areas – but couldn’t find landlords to accept them. Some families have bad credit or poor rental histories.
Others on the list have declined the vouchers, telling DHA they don’t want to move far from relatives and churches. And families without cars struggle with the lack of public transportation in some suburbs.
So we have two explanations for why the vouchers are sitting around unused:
- the tenants can’t find landlords to accept them; and
- some on the waiting list don’t want to move to North Dallas.
The first excuse is valid to a degree. This is problem known in the affordable housing world as the “turn back ratio”. Because in Texas landlords may legally discriminate against a tenant simply because they have a Section 8 voucher many do so. Especially if they really want a legal way of keeping minority families and families with young children out of their apartments. If you want to see how this plays out on a map check out the Austin Housing Segregation report posted on this blog on June 30. Texas needs a law outlawing discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders.
I say this excuse is valid to a degree because DHA should have been hustling to help tenants find landlords willing to rent to them in desegregated neighborhoods and not leaving the voucher holders to strike out on their own.
The second excuse, that some folks on the waiting list don’t want to live in North Dallas, is completely disingenuous. Of course there are folks who don’t want to live in North Dallas. But there are 8,000 families on the waiting list. You cannot tell me it would be very hard to find 500 out of the 8.000 who would take advantage of this opportunity if the DHA put some effort into notifying folks and into developing and publicizing to the tenants a list of properties that would lease to them. Nicer, newer apartments, safer communities, better schools, more public amenities along with a permanent rent fixed at no more than 33 percent of your income — of course there are 500 low-income, African-American Dallas families who would jump at the opportunity.
The real problem here is that DHA has been sitting on the vouchers for too long without advertising or recruiting eligible families to use them. DHA has had these specific vouchers for almost two years and has just recently started going down the existing Section 8 waiting list to find African American families who want to move to desegregated neighborhoods. That’s the problem.
On June 26 Horner wrote a follow-up story reporting…
The Dallas Housing Authority board of commissioners plans to create a separate new waiting list for special rental assistance vouchers that can only be used by low-income black residents who move to predominately white neighborhoods.
Now the DHA is waiting for HUD approval before proceeding. Why this was not done two years ago is not explained.
It sounds a little like DHA would like to just wait out the clock, offer some excuses and pressure HUD to convert the vouchers for general use outside of the class of folks who should be getting help with desegregated housing opportunities under the Walker case. That would be a grave injustice.