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Newest low-income housing complex full

Housing Authority takes hit from government cutbacks

Published: Monday, May 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

STERLING – When the City Council approved the Country Lane Apartments project in fall 2012, some local residents questioned the need for more low- and medium-income housing.

If Country Lane is a good measuring stick, it appears the market for that demographic has not yet become saturated. After an unusually rainy spring set back the construction schedule, the developer made up for lost time.

All 48 units in the $9.3 million housing complex on West 11th Street are now full, says Jeremy Yost, vice president for Yost Management Co., the project's Charleston-based developer.

"Everything is going great, and we are full," Yost said. "Three are still vacant, but we have deposits on them."

Income guidelines determine eligibility for Country Lane's one-, two-, and three-bedroom apartments.

Sterling resident Susan Welch went to a Plan Commission meeting on Sept. 20, 2012, equipped with data she said would back her contention that no more low-income housing was needed in Whiteside County.

"I believe we have overstock," Welch said during the meeting. "I think our needs are met."

At that time, she asked the council to delay its vote so members could look at the data she had compiled. The council declined and voted as planned during that session.

Alderman Barry Cox cast the lone dissenting vote when the council approved the project. He said some citizens had safety concerns stemming from the belief that too many people were in too little space.

"The way they built this has some wondering where all these people will go," Cox said. "There's no green space for kids, and the adults don't stay in the house all the time, either."

Yost said his company's market study found long waiting lists at other low-income housing developments in this area.

While the Whiteside County Housing Authority doesn't think that too much low-income housing is available, the agency believes the county is meeting the demand.

"We always like to see more available housing, but I think we're doing a good job of meeting need," said Lori Younger, Section 8 director for the Housing Authority.

Tenant-based Section 8 vouchers, which Younger works with, can also be used for rental properties that are in a price range that works for low-income renters. The income eligibility requirements of the Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibit voucher users from spending more than 40 percent of their household income on rent. Maximum gross income for a family of four can't exceed $29,150.

Project-based vouchers must be used at government-subsidized housing developments such as Civic Plaza I, Garden Homes, and Coloma Homes, all in Rock Falls.

The most common type of subsidy is the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit, a dollar-for-dollar incentive for companies to invest in low-income housing. Sterling's Country Lane and Cedar Woods in Rock Falls are tax credit developments.

"It helps that we have a good rapport with landlords and homeowners in the area," Younger said. "We work closely with the [Sauk Valley] Landlord Association to help meet housing needs."

Polly Barnhart, site manager at Coloma Homes, says she has a pretty consistent waiting list for the 125 units there. Some of those people have been on the list for a couple of years. About 54 people are waiting for a one-bedroom apartment, 40 people for a two-bedroom unit, and about 13 total for the three- and four-bedroom units.

"It's always harder to get the one- and two-bedroom units," Barnhart said. "The bigger families tend to move on more quickly."

Barnhart says it's important to remember that not everyone on the waiting lists will qualify. It's not unusual to go through 20 applicants for one unit, she says.

"Our complex is subsidized in a different way," Barnhart said. "The income limit is the same, but the rent is based on 30 percent of gross family income."

A bigger problem for the Housing Authority is a cutback in government funding. The agency is authorized to issue a maximum of 285 vouchers, but it has been holding steady at 250 because of funding uncertainties.

"We have a program waiting list of 27 families, but we don't have the funding to go to our maximum," Younger said.

Since the federal government's sequestration-induced spending cuts were instituted March 1, 2013, the program has idled somewhat. The Housing Choice Voucher program funding was cut by $938 million in 2013, including an $854 million cut in funding for rental assistance payments.

As a result, state and local housing agencies received 6 percent less funding than they needed to renew all of the housing vouchers that families were using before sequestration. 

With fewer vouchers to use, the Housing Authority must be even more diligent when assessing need.

Those on waiting lists have different circumstances to consider – many are living with family members or friends, while others are going through foreclosure proceedings or even living in shelters.

"Next year we may get more money, but in the meantime we have to carefully assess need and determine who is in an emergency situation," said Lynn Deter, Housing Authority executive director.

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