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Public housing residents begin to move

CHAMPAIGN --- For Daphne Dalton, her move from Joann Dorsey Homes to a three-bedroom rental near Kirby Street and Mattis Avenue was a good one. 

But it would not have happened unless the Housing Authority of Champaign County  had reconsidered and raised the amount that its vouchers would pay for rent, residents said.

“This house we’ve got now, that’s the nicest house we’ve ever lived in, it’s the nicest neighborhood we ever lived in . I’m happy they raised the vouchers,” said the 20-year single mom. 

Dalton’s rent is about $850 a month for a three-bedroom house with a large backyard - but until recently, the house was not a possibility using the initial rental voucher the Champaign County Housing Authority gave her. 

Residents staged a protest in late July outside housing authority offices because the rental vouchers were valued at less than fair market rent, making it difficult for some to find a safe and affordable place to move to. 

Vouchers were issued in early summer, yet of the nearly 90 families living on the two properties - only 20 had found new places to live.

Dalton had tried to find a three-bedroom place for less than $700. Federal guidelines set for 2011 set the fair market rent for a three-bedroom home in Champaign at $895 - though rents in Champaign-Urbana typically run higher. 

But she is now among dozens of residents who have moved from Joann Dorsey Homes in the past month as part of a plan to redevelop the public housing apartment complex as well as one at Dunbar Court. The two properties are the oldest of the housing authority’s housing stock.

The mass exodus follows a recent move by housing authority officials to increase the value of a rental voucher they issued to residents earlier this year - from 95 percent of fair market rent back to 110 percent of fair market rent. Last year, the board voted to reduce the vouchers’ value to save money.

Housing Authority Executive Director Edward Bland would not speculate on if the increase in voucher value helped more families move. 

Instead, he said, “80 percent had identified homes prior to the increase.” '¨'¨

Dalton lived at Joann Dorsey Homes for 18 months, after spending the previous two years in extended stay motels where rates ranged between $200 to $300 a week.
As soon as she turned 18, she applied for housing assistance at the housing authority. 

The day she moved into her apartment at Joann Dorsey Homes was the day she had been evicted from the motel she lived. 

“By the time we made it back to the hotel, our stuff was locked in a room and we had to pay $5 to get our stuff,” Dalton said.  “I went from living in one room to having my own room.”'¨'¨

The residents protested in late July, asking for an increase in voucher value. Shortly thereafter, the vouchers were increased back to 110 percent as of July 1, Bland said.'¨As of late August, about 30 families remained in the Joanne Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court properties - down from about 70 families, he said.
 
Margaret Neil, a resident of Joann Dorsey Homes and a commissioner with the housing authority board, said safe and affordable housing in Champaign-Urbana is scarce.'¨

“That’s one of the reason why I think its so troublesome for families (to find a place to live) because this is a college town .... that’s the reason Section 8 was 10 (percent) above the market  because they knew the rent was on the high end,” Neil said.'¨

Residents at Joann Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court were issued rental vouchers to find a new place to live as required by federal law under the approved redevelopment plans.'¨

All total, nearly 90 apartment units will be demolished to make way for mixed-income property, meaning that the new units will be available to rent to both low-income residents and those who can pay full market price. '¨

“The redevelopment no longer segregates the poor from the rest of the community,” Bland said.'¨

Known as Section 8 vouchers or housing choice vouchers, the vouchers subsidize a tenant’s rent and can be used to rent any place with a willing landlord and approval from the housing authority. The value of individual vouchers are based on a tenant’s income and household size.
 
In Champaign County, the 2011 fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $606. (See more here) '¨

This made it difficult to find new homes, Joann Dorsey Homes and Dunbar Court residents said, and that is why they protested. '¨

“If they wouldn’t have raised (the voucher value), then we would have been over there on Bellefontaine , Champaign Street ... and that’s not a place where I want to be,” Dalton said. “We had a few neighbors coming over and welcomed us to the neighborhood .. I know if we would have moved in any other neighborhood that probably wouldn’t have happened.” 

The remaining residents do not have a deadline to move, Bland said.'¨

“We’re hoping all families will be relocated by Nov. 1, but we will work with those families who continue to need assistance,” he said.'¨

The next stage in the redevelopment plan after residents are relocated is demolition. '¨

“The housing authority is very excited moving forward and bringing (public housing) into the 21st century similar to what (others) are doing across the nation,” Bland said. '¨When driving by a property , people will no longer say “that’s public housing”, he said.

¨ Copyright 2011 CU-CitizenAccess.