HUD plans solution

Will conduct telephone survey to ensure correct voucher rent values

— In the next week or so, if a person calls asking about your monthly rent and utility costs, Evelyn Tileston would like you to consider not hanging up.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will conduct what it calls a Random Digit Dial telephone survey.

The survey is intended to help HUD establish realistic fair market rent values. Tenants who receive Section 8 housing vouchers must rent a property that charges no more than the fair market rent to collect government assistance.

By law, HUD will not pay for a property that charges more than the established fair market rent, which is calculated as the 40th percentile of rent and utility costs.

Tileston works as the executive director for the Independent Life Center, an organization that helps people with disabilities and also is the only body in Craig to distribute Section 8 housing vouchers.

She has been vocal in her criticism that HUD's fair market rent values in Moffat County are too low for Section 8 tenants to find places to live.

But, the telephone survey is a good, important step, she said.

"This is a way for them to get a realistic picture of what a realistic rent is in Moffat County," Tileston said. "I'm very pleased that HUD is taking this action before they really have to."

HUD is glad to be working with Craig agencies and residents to make sure their rent values are appropriate and serving the population, said George Antoine, HUD Denver-based regional economist.

"We appreciate all the work that Moffat County officials completed," Antoine said. "We appreciate the citizens' responses to this county survey so that we can obtain the correct fair market rent."

Fair market rent calculations begin with the 2000 federal census, and then each year is adjusted according to various indicators including the yearly Consumer Price Index, Antoine said.

However, HUD realizes that information does not always show the clearest picture, he added.

"We realize that there has been a lot of change in the energy-impacted areas in western Colorado," Antoine said. "Sometimes our methodology doesn't catch up with what is going on in (an) area" at the immediate time.

"That's why we really appreciate working with the Moffat County people because they have been excellent and cooperative in responding to our requests for information."

Large growth in the local energy industry is commonly credited with driving up wages and, subsequently, costs.

The survey will include Sweetwater and Uintah counties in Wyoming, as well, because Moffat County does not have a high enough population to conduct an accurate survey, Antoine said.

HUD aims for 150 to 200 complete responses to make an accurate judgment.

HUD chose not to use neighboring Colorado counties such as Routt and Rio Blanco because the fair market rents there are considerably higher.

Sweetwater and Uintah's rent values are closer to Moffat's. Those areas also have commented the fair market rents there are too low, and they are experiencing similar impacts from energy development, Antoine said.

HUD's survey should take about six weeks to complete and then the data should take about one month to compile.

Once that's done, if any changes need to be made, they will be published in an interim federal registry - a document of federal executive policies - and take effect immediately.

Local agencies and residents are welcome to contact HUD during that process, but there will not be an official public comment period, Antoine said.

The important thing is that Moffat County residents approach the incoming survey calls seriously and be honest and forthcoming, Tileston said.

"This is a good thing that they're doing, and I hope that people don't think it's some telemarketer," she said. "I hope people will tell them the truth. They're going to be helping everybody with this survey."

HUD's Denver office can be reached at 303-672-5440. People interested in learning more about the survey can visit HUD's fair market rent Web site at www.huduser.org/datasets/fmr.html.

Survey information is located at the bottom of the page. HUD plans to follow the Random Digit Dial survey guidelines for larger areas.

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