By Lisa Loving Of The Skanner News
A couple dozen New Columbia residents with Section 8 housing subsidies had a bad shock last week: They received letters informing them their rent is going up by as much as 50 percent.
Luckily, the letters were wrong.
"Here is what's happening: We are raising apartment rents at New Columbia for some of the apartments -- that is not the same thing if someone's on Section 8 as the tenant portion of that rent payment going up," said spokesperson Shelly Marchesi.
For project-based Section 8 renters, the rent goes up but the amount the renter pays – based on their income – stays the same unless their income has changed.
"This was not explained in the letter, which really frankly we should have done a much better job explaining this in the letter," Marchesi says.
The issue came up last Monday when a woman called The Skanner News to report she had received a letter from Home Forward's Guardian Management informing her that the rent was jumping from $800 to $1,200 in July.
The woman declined to be identified, she said, because she was afraid of being kicked out of her housing altogether if she complained about the management.
The Skanner News' email query to the housing authority's office led Marchesi to check Guardian's letter to residents – she says about two dozen received the memo -- and she says she saw the problem immediately.
For instance, a letter that says, "Effective July, 2013, your rent is going to be $720 on your lease, and we'd like to sign a 12 month lease with you," doesn't mean that you are going to pay $720 because if you have a tenant-based voucher, the rent that you pay is a percentage of your income – it's not a percentage of the rent.
The New Columbia project is a combination of "flavors" of affordable housing, Marchesi says, which can be hard to understand in terms of their differing rules and requirements.
"So I'm thinking that this woman who called you has a tenant-based Section 8 voucher in an affordable apartment, as opposed to being in an apartment that has project-based Section 8 that's attached to the apartment as opposed to the tenant -- or public housing which is a different flavor entirely."
The mix-up is part of a bigger effort to bring up rents.
Home Forward says that New Columbia rent levels were below market rent, and hadn't been increased for several years. Increasing the apartment rents would get more Section 8 subsidy flowing to the property, which officials say is needed to operate a big community such as New Columbia.
Marchesi stressed that she did not want to blame Guardian Management for the misleading memo because at the end of the day, Home Forward is responsible.
"But now that we've seen the letter we can totally understand why somebody who maybe doesn't have a finely tuned understanding of how their portion of the rent is calculated – there's nothing in this letter that reassures them that their portion of the rent as a result of this change, isn't going up."
Marchesi says residents with questions should call their case workers for help in troubleshooting any problems. For more information on New Columbia click here.