Good morning. We’ve talked over the years about what impact our Section 8 subsidized housing had on living conditions and quality of life. I wanted to talk a little bit about where we are, how we got here, and what to expect moving forward.
Over my years at the city, there have been a lot of incorrect facts out there on how we came to have so much Section 8. I could spend hours talking about this, but you probably have better things to do today than listen to me talk forever about Section 8. So here’s the quick and easy (and oversimplified) Section 8 lesson for today…
Section 8 is a program designed by the U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development to help low income families afford quality housing. The concept was designed to work like this: A low income family finds quality affordable housing wherever they wish. Under the income guidelines, the low income family can afford $400 rent per month. The cost of quality affordable housing in the area is $1,000 per month. The voucher pays the remaining $600 each month so that the low income family can live in good housing.
We do and have had poverty in Middletown. For a city our size, to compare with average cities in Ohio, the City of Middletown would have somewhere between around 800 Section 8 vouchers operating in the city, helping low income, elderly fixed-income, and disabled residents to maintain quality housing options.
Middletown Public Housing Agency was started in 1978. Up until 1999, the city had less than 800 Section 8 vouchers in the MPHA program. From 1999-2003, the city added almost 900 new vouchers to the program, taking the program up to 1662 total vouchers. This gave us the highest ratio of subsidized housing units in the State of Ohio.
People have asked over and over how that happened. I honestly don’t know all of the details, but I can tell you that HUD offered additional vouchers during that time period and the paperwork requesting those vouchers for Middletown was signed by Consoc, our MPHA administrator at the time. I have found no record of a council vote authorizing the increase, and there is no direct documentation that I have seen as to the process that was used to ramp up the program.
People have blamed my predecessor for a lot of this problem. I can tell you with certainty that Judy Gilleland not only didn’t ramp up the program, but she also was the City Manager who sent me to HUD to start the process of reducing subsidized housing in Middletown. The additional vouchers came to the city in batches from 1999-2003. Judy came to the city in 2008, well after the ramp up. I started here as Prosecutor in 2005.
Not one person in administration, staff or City Council that was in charge when this happened is still with the city government in any way. You can be mad at the city for allowing this to happen, but no one that is here had anything whatsoever to do with the increase in Section 8.
With the huge sudden increase in Section 8 vouchers, the system became warped in Middletown for a long time. Instead of providing good quality affordable housing as designed by the Section 8 program, in many cases, a select number of investors bought up lower quality, older housing, and Section 8 in Middletown often became housing that was so low quality that only the extremely poor would choose to live there because they didn’t have other options. Landlords became rich and others joined in to make a profit.
That’s not a slam on landlords. We had over 100 landlords on the Section 8 program when MPHA was in existence. Only a handful did not maintain their properties. The ramp up was legal and ethical as far as the landlords were concerned. There were places for 900 new low income families in Middletown and the landlords responded to the need we created for additional rental housing.
In 2010, Judy Gilleland asked me to start talking to HUD about reducing our Section 8 presence in the city. In 2012, I put together a 100+ page analysis of the city including the impact the high saturation of subsidized housing had on the city. If you are really bored and have about two hours, you can read the 2012 report here:
After about three years of discussion with HUD, the decision was mutually made to shut down MPHA and distribute our vouchers to Butler and Warren County Metropolitan Housing Authorities.
We agreed to this because a large amount of historical data shows that Section 8 voucher holders (extremely low income families) typically stay within a short distance of where they live now. The data showed that poor families often rely on family members for babysitting, transportation, etc., and that moving to a new community, while providing better housing, took them away from what limited support system they had to take care of day care, etc.
A certain number of vouchers are turned in to HUD each year. Participants get jobs and don’t need the program. People die. People don’t obey the rules and get kicked off the program. The data strongly showed that if we transferred the program to Lebanon and Hamilton, as the Middletown Section 8 vouchers turned over for legitimate reasons over time, we would slowly see the dispersion of Section 8 families to other parts of southwest Ohio and work our way back to a more reasonable distribution of subsidized housing in the city.
At the height of MPHA, the city had just over 1,700 vouchers operating in the City of Middletown. By December 2016, that number is down to around 950 vouchers. The expected dispersion happened as predicted. As time goes on, we should continue to see reductions in Section 8 in the city.
I was never one to bash Section 8 as a program or to bash its participants. Like all situations, a small minority of landlords and poor quality Section 8 tenants tainted the program. The big problem in my eyes was the volume, not the participants. Most landlords were just trying to legitimately make a profit. Most Section 8 participants were just trying to find quality housing for their family.
So now we’ve reduced Section 8 by about 45% to date. Here’s the lingering problem: we have shifted the balance of homeownership and single family rentals over time to where we have neighborhoods that approach 80-90% rentals. That’s bad for the city. Second, we have a large amount of 70+ year old, smaller housing that is reaching the end of its useful life. What has taken place is that instead of having a Section 8 family in a $15,000 house, we have an extremely poor non-subsidized family living in the $15,000 house.
The reduction in vouchers hasn’t changed our poverty rates. It hasn’t changed our crime levels because most Section 8 households were not causing crime. The ones that did cause crime were removed from the Section 8 program. During my time running MPHA, we removed about 600 families from the program for rule violations or criminal activity. If you were a Section 8 problem and you broke the rules, you were removed.
The real problem is the abundance of worn out housing stock in Middletown at the end of its useful life. We have too much older, worn out, smaller, lower value housing units than surrounding communities in Southwest Ohio. With the reduction in vouchers, we have too much undesirable rental housing stock in the city.
What is done is done. As I’ve said before, I got the keys to the city in 2014 and I have to fix us from where we are. I’m looking forward not back.
The housing study being completed is going to recommend large changes over time in our housing stock to become more competitive in the area. The recommendations would change our poverty rates over time and raise property values. The changes are going to require difficult decisions and we’ll need to carefully think through what changes make sense for the city and thoughtfully consider and minimize the impact on low income and minority families. I’m going to need help from all sectors of the city to get this right.
It’s past time to move forward and fix our neighborhoods. As I get the data from the housing study, I’ll be rolling it out publicly and I need and want your comments and ideas. Get in the game. It’s your city. Let’s do it right.