HUD changes in fair market rents met by protests

Ridgeview West to raise rents, forcing Section 8 tenants to move; few area apartments found that meet guidelines

Story at a glance

• U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development dictates the maximum rent price for properties rented by persons or families who receive Section 8 housing vouchers.

• HUD released figures for fair market rents across the country Oct. 1, which includes rents for Moffat County.

• The figures released are too low for voucher recipients to be able to find housing, said Evelyn Tileston, Independent Life Center director.

• People receiving vouchers cannot live in a dwelling that costs more than HUD's fair market rent value.

• The Independent Life Center appealed to the Colorado Division of Housing for a 110 percent waiver, which allows voucher recipients to live in a dwelling that costs up to 110 percent of HUD's fair market value.

— Sometimes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Such is the case for at least 12 local families who receive U.S. Housing and Urban Development Section 8 housing vouchers through the Colorado Division of Housing.

Local government officials credit activity from energy companies for being largely responsible for an economic growth spurt that brings more money to the area, but also drives up costs.

Those who receive Section 8 vouchers are again afraid of being forced to move out of their homes because rent is going up more than HUD will pay, said Evelyn Tileston, Independent Life Center director.

The center is the only public housing authority in Craig to distribute Section 8 vouchers.

John Carson, HUD regional director in Denver, stood by his department's process for evaluating rent costs around the country.

HUD uses in-house economists to conduct annual surveys of each area before releasing fair market rent figures, Carson said.

At the Ridgeview West Apartments, rents will increase in March, a decision made before HUD released its figures.

New rents are high enough that Section 8 recipients - there are nine people and families who receive housing vouchers that live there now - will not be allowed by HUD to live there and continue to receive vouchers.

Ridgeview West was one of eight rental properties in Craig - out of 25 that included apartments, duplexes and town homes - that previously fell within HUD's fair market rent guidelines.

The system and history

When a person or family rents a home or apartment and receives a HUD housing voucher, the monthly rent must be equal to or less than the figure HUD sets as the fair market rent.

"When they figured the fair market rent, their (HUD's) brains were out to lunch," Tileston said. "The people at HUD who set the fair market rent have obviously never tried to rent an apartment here."

HUD annually calculates value for individual areas and releases figures on Oct. 1 each year.

This year, the fair market rent for Moffat County was set at $447 per month for a one-bedroom and $561 per month for a two-bedroom.

Those costs must also include utilities, which makes finding apartments that meet HUD's guidelines even tougher, Tileston said.

According to an Independent Life Center survey conducted in July that included monitoring newspaper ads and calling Realtors, there is one basement apartment available in Craig that includes all utilities paid.

In that same survey, no one-bedroom apartment met HUD's initial fair market rent, and five out of 16 two-bedroom properties fell within the guidelines.

Almost "all of the rents we saw advertised were above what HUD said the fair market value to be," Tileston said.

The survey was sent to HUD before Oct. 1 as part of a protest period where people within the area can send a case for higher rent values.

"They paid absolutely no attention to us," Tileston said.

After values in Moffat County became official, Tileston's next step, a step that is becoming a familiar undertaking, was to send a case to the Colorado Division of Housing asking for 110 percent waiver for Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

The Division of Housing approved the request for Moffat County a couple of weeks ago, said Ryan McMaken, community relations director.

As of Friday, the Independent Life Center had not been notified, Tileston said, but she was happy that decision had been reached for another year.

The waiver does nothing to better the long-term future for Section 8 recipients, however, because the trend of swelling rental costs is not going to go away anytime soon, she added.

The rent trend

Landlords are improving their properties, which naturally raises value.

"Most of the landlords in this town are good landlords, and they want to improve their property for their renters," Tileston said.

Which is the case for Ridgeview West, manager Susan Sanborn said.

"We're making improvements for the people that live here. And with the new money, we can make even better improvements," she said.

When tenants move out, there can be up to $2,500 in remodel costs to one apartment, including new carpet, installing tiles, and replacing showers and water heaters.

The reality is that Craig is its own stable economy now, Sanborn said.

The cost of providing a good place to live is going up, and to keep providing that, rents have to go up.

The apartment had trouble affording a full-time maintenance worker until about 18 months ago. As recently as this summer, Ridgeview management could not find a maintenance worker that would work for what the apartment would pay.

"We're no longer a bedroom community for Steamboat," she said. "We have our own community and our own viable economy."

Including the Division of Housing's 110 percent waiver, Ridgeview West tenants will still not be within the guidelines for housing vouchers in anything except for three-bedroom apartments.

Tileston does not blame Ridgeview West management or its owners for raising rents, she said.

"If (these people) get evicted, it is absolutely HUD's fault," Tileston said. "It is Washington, D.C.'s fault."

Anyone interested in contacting HUD regarding fair market housing values can reach either George Antoine, HUD economist, or Carson through HUD's Denver office at 303-672-5440.

Collin Smith can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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