Troy Housing Authority plans to dispose of Dunbar

Published 9:25 pm Monday, November 5, 2018

After rumors swirled that the residents of Dunbar Drive would be forced out of their homes or that the property had been sold to Troy University, Troy Housing Authority Executive Director Debbie Rogers called a meeting Monday to separate fact from fiction.

“Dunbar is not being sold to Troy University and nobody will be losing their housing assistance,” Rogers reassured more than 20 of the housing authority’s tenants gathered at Murphree Park Community Center.

Instead, Rogers explained that the Troy Housing Authority is planning to dispose of the Dunbar property in the near future and that all tenants living in the homes will be able to move into one of the authority’s other units or receive a voucher that would allow them to move elsewhere.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Rogers also explained another process of change that the housing authority is going through: a shift to Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) housing.

Joe Schiff, a consultant from Washington D.C. that was once the top public housing official during the George H. W. Bush administration, explained why the local housing authority needs to make the transition.

“I am totally convinced of one thing: the political support for the public housing program in Washington continues to decline,” Schiff told the tenants. “When you don’t have a whole lot of political support, it’s hard to get the money … This would reposition the Troy Housing Authority so it continues to be able to offer affordable housing to people in Troy who need it, forever. I’m convinced public housing won’t be around in 15 years. At some point it becomes unsustainable because there will be no money. But the people by and large that live in public housing cannot afford to go out and rent an apartment on their own without getting assistance somewhere.”

Schiff said by switching to RAD, the Troy Housing Authority will have a more stable source of funding, while the individuals receiving assistance from the housing authority will see little change.

“The kind of assistance we’re going to has never been cut,” Schiff said. “Public housing is cut almost every year. The program we’re going to has been used by private individuals who own properties that are politically active. I’d be willing to wager with you that Ms. Rogers has never given a politician a $1,000 contribution. Private developers do, so they get protected. Ms. Rogers doesn’t. That’s the political reality of this question. You go from the public housing pot to enjoying the RAD pot with private developers. It will give you all the comfort of being in a different category of assistance with people who give big bucks to the politicians. I think that will protect you. That’s the theory. I can’t guarantee anything, but that’s the belief.”

The individuals living in those properties of the Troy Housing Authority other than Dunbar Drive will not see much difference, Schiff said. The rent will still be 30 percent of the tenant’s income, just as it is now. Repairs would be done as part of the conversion, he said, but nothing that would require tenants to relocate, even temporarily.

Individuals in Dunbar would have the option to simply move into one of the RAD units that the housing authority plans to convert to or receive a tenant protection voucher to move to another property and continue to pay 30 percent of income as rent, with the housing authority subsidizing the rest of the rent as long as it is “reasonable.”

“With the voucher, you would rent from a private landlord and pay 30 percent of your income for rent,” Schiff said. “You’ll choose where you live – that’s the difference. Under the voucher program, you choose where you want to live, assuming the unit is up to snuff and the rent is reasonable as determined by the housing authority.”

For example, Schiff explained, if rent is $600 at the private rental property but the tenant in Dunbar is currently paying $50 a month because that is 30 percent of his or her income, that tenant would still pay $50 a month in the new property and the housing authority would pay the remainder to the landlord.

Rogers said again that there would be a limit on the “reasonable” rent that the housing authority could pay the remainder. In the case that a desired unit is more than that remainder, Rogers said the Troy Housing Authority would attempt to work out a deal with the landlord to lower the rent to meet that reasonable standard to the tenant would need to provide the difference.

“Do we have availability in Segars Street, Hubbard Street, Knox Street (etc.) hypothetically if everyone in Dunbar wanted to move into those locations?” asked Robert Jones, District 1 councilman for the City of Troy.

Rogers said the number of available units varies from month to month – there are currently five or six vacancies – but explained that the relocation could be structured in phases with tenants wanting to move into those locations coming as units become available.

“By federal law we cannot move a family until they have an alternative site where their rent will not go up,” Rogers said. “Their rent cannot go up under federal law.”

Rogers said nothing is set in stone yet – the disposition has not even been applied for yet as officials continue to determine what their plan is to do with Dunbar.

When it comes to vouchers, Rogers said there is no plan yet as to how it will be decided who gets vouchers first. One possibility is that the tenants who have lived in Dunbar the longest will get vouchers first. Jones asked Rogers if seniors might be given the priority. Rogers said that perhaps the most fair system would be to hold a lottery for which tenants receive vouchers first.

However it is done though, Rogers said there will be at least one or two more group meetings as well as meetings with individual families as the Troy Housing Authority continues this process.

And no one will be forced to move out of Dunbar without other housing in place at the same rental price.

Schiff said families in Dunbar don’t need to make any moves yet.

“I’d say don’t do a thing at this stage of the game until things are more definite,” Schiff said. “Just make sure you stay lease-compliant. Other than doing what’s right, you shouldn’t do anything.”

Schiff reaffirmed that the conversion of public housing in Troy to RAD does not mean the same for all tenants as it does for the residents in Dunbar. No other tenants outside of Dunbar will be offered vouchers.

There is also no firm timeline in place yet for this to happen.

“This is by far the most complex, convoluted process,” Schiff said. “We’re getting through it. Everyone that has gone through this has hated the process, but, uniformly, they’ve loved the end result. It’s awful to go through the process but there’s a payoff in the end. There’s more stable funding and less regulatory BS they have to put up with in the end. I’m here to help Ms. Rogers and her board work through the process. Will you see something happen this year? No. Not a thing. Hopefully both (the Dunbar disposition and RAD conversion) will occur in 2019.”