Vancouver agency might start collecting rent from subsidized residents able to work

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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Vancouver Housing Authority staff members will take public testimony Monday on a rent reform proposal that would charge rent to subsidized housing residents who are able to work.

The hearing will be at 6 p.m. Monday at the Vancouver Housing Authority, 2500 Main St.

Roy Johnson, executive director of the VHA, said the Minimum Income Rent Reform Initiative would affect approximately 500 families and be an incentive for "work-able" families to obtain employment. Families would still receive deductions for dependents in their subsidy calculations, and there would be hardship exemptions.

Under the initiative, which will have to be approved by the VHA Board of Commissioners and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, each household member deemed "work-able" would have an assumed annual income of $9,000.

That's approximately what a person could earn working 20 hours a week at minimum wage, Johnson said.

"Work-able" means an adult younger than 62 who is not disabled, a dependent or a full-time caretaker for a disabled family member.

For example, a single parent with two children and no reported income would go from paying nothing for rent to paying $111 a month. A family with two work-able parents and two children that has a reported income of $12,000 a year and currently pays $186 in monthly rent would have an assumed annual income of $18,000 and pay $336 a month in rent.

The initiative has the potential to save up to $100,000 in the first year and up to $900,000 in subsequent years, Johnson said. The plan would also help the housing authority meet its goals under the Moving to Work agreement it has with HUD.

Debby Dover, executive director for Second Step Housing, said she supports the initiative. She said it's empowering for people to be able to pay rent, and the plan supports the goal of helping families become self-sufficient.

Moving people out of subsidized housing helps free up resources for families on waiting lists, she said.

People have expressed concerns about the proposal, however.

Andy Silver, executive director of the Council for the Homeless, said he appreciates why VHA wants the rent reform initiative but worries it comes at a bad time.

"Given the economy and the job market, I'm concerned there are people who are trying hard and still not able to increase their income," Silver said.

Depending on a person's literacy and education, it can take time to earn a GED, he said. There are also people in subsidized housing who have a disability that they may not be aware of and haven't documented it with the VHA.

"We don't want to see them overlooked," Silver said. He said he doesn't want people forced out of subsidized housing and reliant on emergency rental assistance.

Johnson said each family will be treated on a case-by-case basis.

If HUD signs off on the initiative, families would be given four to six months' notice of the rent increase.

Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com