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Housing-Voucher Recipients Get Help Moving to Better Neighborhoods

Shari Rivera lives in a three-bedroom apartment in Far Rockaway, Queens, with her two children and her niece. Last year, all of the cabinets in her kitchen fell off the wall, breaking her stove. She also has issues with roaches and mice.

As a participant in the federal housing program known as Section 8, though, it has been difficult for her to move to a different apartment, especially in a neighborhood with better schools.

“A lot of people don’t want to take on Section 8 recipients,” said Ms. Rivera, 32, who works for a party-planning company on Long Island. With rising rents, she has found herself priced out of many apartments. “How can you really compete?”

But Ms. Rivera is now one of 45 Section 8 participants selected through a lottery by New York City’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development to take part in the agency’s Mobility Counseling Program, in which she’ll receive counseling and a larger voucher for finding an apartment. The lottery was open to Section 8 tenants who were already taking part in HPD’s Family Self-Sufficiency program, which also offers support.

The HPD is funded through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development and its Section 8 program has approximately 32,000 voucher holders, most of whom rent through private landlords.

As part of the new program, Ms. Rivera started attending workshops earlier this fall on everything from building her credit score to learning how to work with potential landlords.

Once she completes the mobility program, she’ll be eligible for as much as $3,500 a month for a three bedroom apartment located in what the HPD determines to be an improved neighborhood. These are generally pricier areas with better schools, including Park Slope in Brooklyn and Forest Hills in Queens. She currently receives $2,100 each month.

Eva Trimble, deputy commissioner of financial management and tenant resources at HPD, said that as administrators developed the new program they looked at multiple studies that showed that a child’s community had long-term effects on their mobility. They wanted to work on ways to increase opportunities for Section 8 voucher recipients in New York City.

More than 80% of the city’s Section 8 tenants with children under 12 live in a community with a poverty rate of more than 20%, according to Ms. Trimble. “Our voucher holders with children are concentrated,” she said.

In order to expand Section 8 into different neighborhoods, HPD is recruiting new building owners and management, offering incentives like expedited permitting for construction and financial incentives, including paying landlords some amount up front for taking in a Section 8 tenant.

Even with Section 8 vouchers, the city’s tight real-estate market—the vacancy rate for housing under $800 a month is just over 1%, according to HPD—still creates issues for tenants. The increased voucher value is meant to help with that, officials said.

“What we’re trying to do here is to find ways to open up that rental market to a distinct group of people in a distinct way,” Ms. Trimble said.

Barbara Sard, the vice president for housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and an expert on housing voucher programs, said New York is in some ways better equipped than other cities to introduce this type of program.

“The vacancy rates and the prices are a challenge,” she said, “but the supply is not such a challenge as it is in other places, nor is transportation as much of a challenge.”

Mobility programs work to balance the scales when it comes to opportunities, according to Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor of urban policy and planning and a faculty director at the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at New York University. Residents can choose to live wherever they’d like, but the extra incentives help tenants who struggle to move.

“We shouldn’t be telling households where they have to move, but we should be reducing barriers,” she said.

Ms. Rivera hopes to move by the summer and enroll her children, who are 10 and 12 years old, into better schools. With more money in her voucher, she’ll be able to look for apartments in neighborhoods she’d never considered before.

“At least now I’ll have a chance to apply to some of these apartments,” she said. “I’m moving to a better school district, and nothing else matters.”

Read more at The Wall Street Journal Back

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