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Authority adjusts subsidized housing rents to entice landlords

Rents for subsidized housing have increased so landlords might curb demands for extra money from tenants through unauthorized deals, the executive director of the Hazleton Housing Authority said.

Dorothy George said some landlords want higher rent than the Section 8 program allowed so they asked tenants to secretly pay more cash. Such deals violate policy, George said, but they probably have occurred for decades and rarely come to light. Afraid of losing homes, tenants pay extra and keep silent. Sometimes the landlords need more money to cover expenses for the properties. Other times, they’re just greedy.

In one case that George learned of, a landlord repaid extra charges to a tenant who kept receipts and phone messages and threatened court action. Most landlords and tenants follow the rules.

“We have a bunch of great landlords and great tenants,” George said. For the fiscal year that began this month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development raised the fair market rents it will pay in the Hazleton area through the program, which takes its name from a section of a federal housing law. Then on Tuesday, the authority’s board set rents 5 percent higher than HUD’s limit, as the rules allow.

George said the higher rents might lead more landlords to participate in the program that served roughly 275 households last year. This year, an efficiency apartment can rent for as much as $581, while the top rent last year was $475. Compared with last year, rents for apartments or homes increased to $690 from $624 with one bedroom and to $842 from $767 with two bedrooms. A three-bedroom residence now goes for $1,089, up from $986, and the rent for a four-bedroom home increased to $1,262 from $1,151. The top rents apply to new landlords, but not every landlord gets the top rent. Landlords already in the program who receive less than the top rent might receive small increases this year, but the authority couldn’t afford to elevate them all to the top, George said.

Inspectors from the authority determine if the rent is reasonable based on condition of the residence, comparable rents and the tenant’s income. Typically, tenants pay 30 percent of their income, and the subsidy covers the balance of the rent. HUD also offers allowances for utility bills that tenants pay. As more tenants find jobs or receive pay raises, they require lower subsidizes so the authority can help more households.

Meanwhile, to help fill vacancies in the Gennaro Gardens apartments that opened in June, the authority also has asked HUD to assign vouchers for subsidizing 15 tenants there. “There has been a holdup,” George wrote in her monthly report to the board. Before assigning vouchers to Gennaro Gardens, HUD requested an environmental review from Hazleton, the agency responsible for the authority. But Luzerne County, not Hazleton, did the environmental review and would be responsible for any environmental problems. So after HUD receives a letter attesting to that, the authority can apply for the vouchers.

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