Fred Moore, Glen Cove’s Section 8 program administrator, and Eric Wingate, the executive director of the city’s housing authority, stressed the needs of the 275 people in the Section 8 housing program at a presentation at Glen Cove’s InterAgency Council meeting on Feb. 13. According to Moore, the program is having a difficult time finding landlords willing to rent their homes to potential tenants.
Section 8 provides low-income residents with vouchers for use in finding homes. While the vouchers can help, a resident’s ability to rent is ultimately at the discretion of a landlord. According to federal guidelines, Glen Cove can provide a maximum of 340 vouchers, but there is not enough available housing to make use of that many.
Moore said that many landlords are unwilling to accept Section 8 participants because they believe that people in need of the services would be bad tenants and would not take care of their rentals, an idea he refuted. Only 1 to 2 percent of tenants turn out to be problematic, he said.
“We’re fighting through stigmas,” Moore said after the meeting. “We’re fighting through bad experiences landlords have had, and we’re trying to keep the program going by getting landlords to take a chance, because there are very [few] chances for low-income families.”
In an effort to make prospective landlords more willing to rent to Section 8 users, Moore said that he hoped to give landlords a more realistic picture. Every community, he explained, has low-income families, and many are not in control of their housing situations for a variety of reasons, including issues with medical and mental health. “We need landlords who are willing to give people a chance even though they’re poor,” he said.
The Glen Cove Housing Authority is working toward privatizing its 212 federally owned units in the city, Wingate said. He explained that most low-income housing in the U.S. is privatized, and eventually becomes gentrified to such an extent that poor residents can no longer live there.
But Wingate said he hoped to take a different approach, using privatization to keep the Glen Cove properties available only to low-income residents. Another demographic that could also benefit, according to Wingate, is seniors, because the housing authority will look to add 30 units for senior housing on Mason Drive.
Carol Waldman, executive director of the Glen Cove Senior Center, spoke of the importance of Section 8 housing to older people. “As the older population begins to struggle more and more on fixed incomes,” she said, “where are they going to turn? That’s the concern.”
Waldman explained that because of their often fragile health, seniors can face a stigma of their own, which can make landlords hesitant to rent to them. “There is the struggle we have with ageism that continues despite our efforts,” she said. “It’s almost like a double stigma. Maybe they’ll fall, maybe they’ll sue, maybe they’ll wind up in the hospital and can’t pay rent” — worries that, she said, are unfair to seniors and not entirely warranted.
When members of the InterAgency Council asked Moore for examples of Section 8 success stories, he mentioned Brenda Lopez. Lopez, the community outreach coordinator for the Glen Cove Child Day Care Center, applied for Section 8 status about 10 years ago. A single mother of two, she said that the program, and its vouchers, were extremely helpful.
After four years in the program, Lopez remarried and was able to move out of it, but she decided to help other people in precarious financial situations. “It’s a really great program for people who need it,” she said of Section 8, “and it’s a shame that not many landlords take it.”
Asked why she thought landlords were hesitant, Lopez said, “I think it’s just that people assume people on Section 8 aren’t good people, not educated, not doing anything with their life and trying to live off the system. Sometimes they’ve come into a situation where they need help.”
Mayor Tim Tenke said that stories like Lopez’s are exactly what the Section 8 program tries to promote. “Section 8 serves as a very vital program for keeping the homeless and families off the street,” he said. “The hope of the program is that people move through it.”
According to Tenke, an increase in landlord participation in the program would not have any impact on city taxpayers. In fact, he said, with more people able to afford housing, it would benefit the city as a whole, because people would be able to stay.