Justice in Motion — Subsidized Housing 101 — PLUS Local Resources

There are many different types of federally-subsidized housing programs. Some provide assistance to specific populations, such as the elderly, disabled, individuals living with AIDS, etc. Many programs have an income eligibility requirement. Some programs subsidize renters; some subsidize home owners. Most programs are funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); some are funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development (USDA/RD) office.

This is a brief overview of four rental subsidy programs available in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. To find out if housing is presently available at this time, please contact the providers directly.

HUD public housing is rental housing owned and managed by a public housing authority. The tenant pays rent directly to the public housing authority.

HUD tenant-based Section 8 is a housing subsidy granted to an eligible tenant to rent from a private property owner (if the landlord has contracted with a public housing authority to accept Section 8). A public housing authority enters into a Housing Assistance Payment Contract with the landlord and subsidizes (pays) some or all of a tenant’s rent directly to the landlord. The tenant pays his/her portion, if any is required, to the landlord. The rental property must pass federal Housing Quality Standards. The subsidy can be transferred from rental to rental for the benefit of the tenant. Tenants can move to other communities, though housing authorities often require a tenant to reside in the local community where the Section 8 was initially granted for some specified period of time.

HUD project-based Section 8 is a housing subsidy that belongs to the rental property owner. Tenants renting at that rental property may be eligible for a subsidized rent—not all units are necessarily subsidized. However, as compared to tenant-based Section 8, if the tenant leaves that specific rental property, the tenant cannot take the subsidy with them.

USDA/RD rental assistance is a housing subsidy similar to project-based Section 8; only it is administered by USDA/RD.

Each housing subsidy has different federal statutes and regulations setting forth a tenant’s and landlord’s rights and obligations. In addition to complying with federal law, landlords and tenants must also comply with state law.

It is illegal for landlords to coerce tenants to pay more than the rental amount determined permissible by HUD and/or USDA. Landlords who do this may be terminated from the subsidized program and may be criminally prosecuted for fraud.

After proper notice is served, if a tenant does not vacate voluntarily, no tenant can be evicted from their home without a court order. Changing locks, terminating utilities, etc. is illegal and a landlord may be sued for damages as a result of this “constructive eviction.”

In both Section 8 programs and USDA/RD rental assistance, when a tenant fails to comply with his/her lease, if appropriate, the landlord initiates the court eviction process. Depending on the circumstances of the eviction, the public housing authority or USDA/RD may have the option to terminate the tenant from the subsidy program.

Public housing, project-based Section 8 and USDA/RD tenancies can only be terminated for cause. In contrast, since a tenant-based Section 8 tenant can transfer the subsidy when they move, after the first one-year written lease term expires, a landlord may terminate the lease without cause.

Once a tenant is terminated from a subsidized housing program for cause, it becomes considerably more difficult to rent from a subsidized housing provider in the future.

The primary public housing authority serving this region is the Housing Authority of Grays Harbor County (HAGH) at (360) 532-0570. It has 415 public housing units in Aberdeen, Hoquiam and Elma, and owns and/or administers 70 units in project-based Section 8 properties in Aberdeen and Hoquiam. When vacancies become available, applicants are contacted to complete the screening process. HAGH also administers tenant-based Section 8. The wait list presently has over 1,000 applicants and was temporarily closed in May 2013 (no specific reopen date is available at this time).

HAGH maintains useful lists of other affordable housing providers in the area, including emergency/transitional housing resources, such as Coastal Community Action Program at (360) 533-5100, Union Gospel Mission (for men) and Friendship House (for women) at (360) 533-2221, etc.

NeighborWorks of Grays Harbor at (360) 533-7828 has rental housing—some subsidized; some reasonably priced fair market. They provide valuable services through housing counselors if you are considering a home purchase, home repair, or are in need of foreclosure assistance.

There are five USDA/RD properties in Grays Harbor County and six in Pacific County. Check out the search links at: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/states/washington/renting.

For more information on tenants’ rights in subsidized housing, check out www.washingtonlawhelp.org.

To find out if you are eligible for Northwest Justice Project services:

For cases including youth (Individualized Education Program and school discipline issues), debt collection or tenant evictions, please call for a local intake appointment at (360) 533-2282 or toll free (866) 402-5293. No walk-ins, please.

For all other legal issues, please call our toll-free intake and referral hotline commonly known as “CLEAR” (Coordinated Legal Education Advice and Referral) at 1-888-201-1014, Mondays through Fridays 9:10 a.m. to 12:25 p.m. If you are a senior, 60 and over, please call 1-888-387-7111; you may be eligible regardless of income. Language interpreters are available. You can also complete an application for services at http://nwjustice.org/get-legal-help.

Sarah Glorian is the senior attorney for the Aberdeen office of the Northwest Justice Project, a private, non-profit legal aid organization providing free representation to low-income residents in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties.