Single mother at risk of eviction due to dispute between the Housing Authority and Prokos Rentals | News

Aimee Gallagher, a resident of Nelsonville, described Prokos Rentals as “slum lords, quite simply” – but she also said: “I thank God for them” as the company provided housing for her family while few alternatives existed.

Gallagher moved into his current Prokos apartment from a homeless shelter, paying rent through a federal voucher program. However, in October 2020, the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority, which oversees the voucher program in Athens County, decided to end its business relationship with Prokos, one of the few large landlords to accept. the good ones.

The AMHA said the company’s business practices were “increasingly inconsistent” with the program requirements of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, as The Athens Messenger reported.

Gallagher has since said that “the anxiety has exploded.” Unable to find alternative accommodation and having lost three months behind on rent, Gallagher now faces eviction, though at a hearing on December 8 she was given a week’s extension to apply for rent assistance.

“It’s been a nightmare trying to find a place with the HUD,” said Gallagher. “No one accepts the HUD, no one wants to take the HUD anywhere. I have searched all over Athens County.

Gallagher said Prokos offered “nothing at all” in terms of support navigating the transition. She said the housing authority, on the other hand, had “worked fairly well with me, but there was nothing available, because there were so many people who had to leave Prokos”.

Gallagher’s family are among around 60 residents who before the change paid rent on a Prokos property with a good HUD, as a local advocacy group United Athens County Tenants previously told the Messenger. .

Southeast Ohio legal services attorney Lucy Schwallie, who represents Gallagher in his deportation case, said Gallagher’s family were the only one of 60 people – to her knowledge – to be deported as a result of the change.

However, Schwallie said she and other SEOLS attorneys heard from a number of Prokos tenants for whom the change presented “significant difficulties”, although she added that most clients got a new accommodation at this point.

In an email, Schwallie said factors that made it difficult for customers affected by the Prokos change include “finding accommodation with enough bedrooms for their children, finding ADA accessible units, trying to stay in the same school district so that their children can have a continuity education, and of course, find units that are within their proper affordability parameters.

Nat Edge, an Integrated Services for Behavioral Health employee who until recently worked closely with the AMHA voucher program while leading the Youth Homelessness Demonstration Program, spoke to the Messenger in a personal capacity and spoke to the Messenger in a personal capacity. stated that there are many factors that make it difficult to find accommodation. with a good HUD in Athens County.

Edge said most housing in the city of Athens is too expensive to use vouchers, which are based on fair market rent. Edge said this is in part because demand for student housing drives up prices and leaves long-term residents of the county “bearing the brunt of a bloated market.”

Although much of the housing stock outside of the city of Athens is cheaper, Edge said that due to the increased number of jobs in the city, it is “difficult for people to get a step ahead “.

Additionally, even when the housing stock is cheaper, Edge said those who pay rent with vouchers are often stigmatized by landlords.

“When people use vouchers in this area, some owners think they are struggling with a usability disorder or that they won’t be such a good fit,” Edge said.

Even though a potential tenant can afford a rental with a voucher and the landlord is willing to work with that person or family, Edge said rental units sometimes do not pass the HUD inspection because the units do not pass. to the “strict minimum standard of life” required. by HUD. In these situations, Edge said that “the person who has worked so hard” to find accommodation with a voucher “then has to start all over again.”

Edge said it all got more difficult since Prokos stopped accepting vouchers.

“It just made the market a lot tighter,” Edge said. “There are a lot more units on the table for all subsidized housing. “

Reagan Neviska, a member of United Athens County Tenants, said that “educating homeowners” about good HUDs could improve the situation in Athens County because many homeowners “don’t realize it’s something they want.” ‘they can offer and what it means to them.

Neviska said UACT also supports policy changes to increase access to housing, including banning “sources of income discrimination,” which would prohibit landlords from denying rent payment through government bonds.

As a result of UACT’s advocacy efforts, Athens City Council passed a ban on income discrimination in June, as The Athens NEWS reported.

Schwallie and SELOS Senior Counsel Peggy Lee wrote in a December 2020 letter to the editor that several Ohio communities have sought to address the difficulty of finding housing with a good HUD through such bans. .

Schwallie said it is difficult to assess the impact of the ban in Athens, but noted that “many people in the city of Athens believed that a ban on the source of income discrimination n ‘Would not have much of an impact on low income tenants’ because of the high rental costs.

Neviska said extending bans on sources of income discrimination across the county could have more impact. Neviska said UACT collected letters from Prokos tenants to send to Nelsonville city council members last summer, asking the city to consider such a ban. The group has not received a response, Neviska added.

Edge said another policy solution that might help would be to require all rental units to meet HUD standards.

Edge said local political solutions, however, can only improve the broader issues at stake.

“Ultimately it comes down to the fact that we allow a small portion of the population to control the land and the infrastructure, and they can amass it and do whatever they want with it,” Edge said. “[Housing] is not makeup or a glamorous luxury item. It is a basic need. “

Pending policy changes or a broader structural solution, Schwallie said a rent relief program through Hocking Athens Perry Community Action served as a vital stopgap, calling the relief “a game changer. for our customers “.

“It’s a lifeline that keeps people housed and we are incredibly grateful for that,” said Schwallie.

Gallagher was given a week’s extension to continue rent assistance under the program, which could allow him to stay temporarily in his Prokos apartment.

Schwallie noted, however, that the HAPCAP program is not a long-term solution for people facing housing insecurity.

For Gallagher, that means that while she may settle her current rent arrears through the program, her search for alternative accommodation is ongoing and the threat of eviction when she has no other place to go. go can continue to emerge.

“My children are going to cry,” said Gallagher. “They’re six and seven, so they don’t really get it. It’s horrible.”

Gallagher said the uncertainty of recent months, combined with the possibility of an eviction, had been particularly damaging for her two children who “are afraid of having to return to the homeless shelter.”

Prokos property manager Kate Stotts declined to comment for this story.

The AMHA could not be reached for comment before press time.

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