Leader Blues

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

TOP STORY >>Housing authority planning improvements

By JEFFREY SMITH
Leader staff writer

The Jacksonville Housing Authority, which is ahead of schedule in fixing federal violations, plans to remodel, add security and build more handicapped-accessible duplexes at Max Howell Place.

Phil Nix, JHA’s new director, said there is a five-year plan to renovate all the Max Howell units, which are subsidized low-income apartments.

“JHA is working with the mayor’s office to build a Jacksonville police substation on the grounds,” Nix said. “The station will be built when two units are demolished. These units were meth labs in 2004 and are unfit for rental.

“We also have an agreement between JHA and the police department to share information on criminal activity at the housing units,” he added.

Nix was hired in January by a newly appointed board of directors, with Jim Durham as chairman and Mike Wilkinson as vice chairman, to oversee the JHA’s daily operations after last year’s critical review by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Also, HUD asked for the records of contracts and work orders for more than $132,000 spent by the authority that were not properly awarded.

Max Howell Place was completed in the mid-1980’s on 20 acres in north Jacksonville. It has 50 buildings with 100 units with one to four bedrooms and central heat and air conditioning.

The duplexes have cable, phone and washer and dryer connections. JHA provides lawn care and pest control on the property. The authority has eight employees.

Pam Dednam, public housing manager, said, “Things are changing for the better at Max Howell since Phil arrived here. We want to improve the housing complex for our residents. Plans are to add benches at the playground for parents to watch their children. We are talking about adding a computer room at the office for the residents.”

There are 14 units with electric utilities designated for the elderly; all other units use natural gas.

For disabled residents there are two units, having lower cabinets, handicapped accessible bathrooms and ramps.

Plans are to change three more units to meet the American Disability Act standards requiring 5 percent of a housing complex be handicapped accessible. JHA is modifying 13 handicap ramps for easier use with a wheelchair.

Tenants pay rent based on 30 percent of their adjusted anticipated income for the upcoming year, and the renter pays for all utilities.

As part of the government- assistance program, renters have to complete eight hours of community service a month, except for the elderly, disabled, full-time students or those with special exemption from the Department of Human Services.
Gisela Williams, housing authority secretary, said, “Anyone can apply for the housing assistance. All applicants must meet the base gross income guidelines by HUD and pass a criminal background check.”

Transportation for the renters is a concern.

“Many of the renters don’t have a car and the complex is so far away from the center of Jacksonville for them to walk to work. It would help improve the lives of many, if Jacksonville could provide city transportation out here,” Dednam said.
There are 105 people on the waiting list to get into Max Howell Place.

Applications are accepted at the housing authority office 9 to 11 a.m. every Thursday, except holidays, at 3600 Max Howell Drive.

Another housing option offered by JHA is Section 8 rental. It is an income-based assisted housing program, where a person can live away from the housing complex.

The program has a waiting list for the allotted 362 housing vouchers.

Vouchers are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. Applications to be on the waiting list will be accepted on 9 to 3 p.m., August 22 and 23.

Anyone can apply for the housing assistance. All applicants must meet the base gross-income guidelines by HUD and pass a criminal background check.

When applicants are approved, they receive a voucher. The voucher holders has 60 days to find suitable housing. If they do not, they have to reapply the next time applications are taken. Once tenants find a house, apartment or trailer, JHA inspects the property to make sure it meets the authority’s housing quality standard. Then a lease contract is agreed on between the voucher and landlord.

Williams explained, “A voucher holder can rent anywhere in and around a 10-mile radius of Jacksonville, but cannot cross county lines.

“They have a one-year lease with the landlord. Tenants pay rent based on 30 percent of their adjusted gross income for the up-coming year and they pay their own utilities, and JHA assists with the rest of the rent payment.

“The renter is responsible for payment directly to the landlord. After a year, the lease can be renewed monthly and the renter is recertified,” Williams said.

“JHA verifies and updates records to make sure the renter still qualifies for assistances.”

JHA payment standards are based on fair market rents published by HUD and updated yearly.