Under mandate from the federal department of Housing and Urban Development, the Johnson City Housing Authority this week notified residents of its 740 housing development apartments their flat-rate rent payments will quadruple effective Jan. 1.
Richard McClain, chief operations office for the housing authority, said HUD instructed JCHA to make the 400 percent flat-rate increase in order to bring the JCHA in line with flat-rate rents charged by other housing authorities in the region beginning in January. After months of negotiations, he said, HUD has refused JCHA’s request to impose the increase in smaller increments over a period of time.
“It’s not something we wanted to do. We ask HUD if we could do it gradually in small increments over time and they demanded we do it all at once beginning Jan. 1. We’re not happy about it. We are concerned about the impact it will have on each person.”
McClain said the flat-rate increase notices also remind the residents they have the option of paying income based rent equal to 30 percent of their total of household income, which for many residents calculates to significantly smaller increases. He said housing authority residents have always had the income-based option but because JCHA has not increased its flat rates in more than 14 years, the flat rate has been the less expensive option for many residents.
The change will increase JCHA’s flat rate for efficiency apartments with no bedrooms from between $70 and $73 to $365 per month. One-bedroom apartments will increase from between $74 and $79 to $441 per month; two bedrooms will go from between $116 to $133 to $546 per month; 3 bedrooms will rise from between $163 to $193 to $678 per month; four bedrooms will jump from between $206 and $245 to $846 per month; and five bedroom apartments will go from between $251 and $301 to $998 per month.
McClain noted JCHA rent includes monthly electricity, water and property maintenance costs, with the exception of kilowatt hours used beyond a monthly limit that is based on the size and construction of the unit and the type of heat used. He said new rates are in keeping with the rental market value of the more than 500 non-housing development Section 8 Housing Voucher properties managed by JCHA, which range from $650 to $750 per month for a two-bedroom home and do not include utilities.
The residents received the notices by mail on Tuesday and many flat-rate payers were still reeling from the news on Thursday. While all those interviewed by the Johnson City Press said they will see increases of less than 400 percent though the income-based option, their increases are significant and all said they will experience hardship.
“It’s going to cause problems for a lot of people and it going to take a lot from our kids,” Keystone resident Wendy Tolley said. “I’ve got two kids and we’re just barely making it. Most of us who live here, we don’t have jobs and we can’t get jobs. My husband had back surgery and that took most of his good paying jobs. I don’t want to lose what I have. I don’t want to leave. And I hate to say this, but we’d be better off on the street. At least we’d have a shelter to go to.”
Elizabeth Greer, a 51-year-old grandmother with nine people her household, said while her flat rate will go from $251 to $998 her income based rent will be $368. “My daughter and I talked about it and we’re just going to have to put it together because if you move out of here people are going to have it a lot harder than what it is. I’ve looked in the paper and its $800 to $900 for a house and then you have to pay lights and water. I really don’t like it either but I’m going to pay because what can you do? If you go out here and get a house, it’s going to be higher than it is.”
Raeannah Peters, a single mother with one child, said the rent on her two-bedroom apartment will rise form $116 to $394, the same amount she was paying for a two-bedroom apartment in public housing in Greeneville two years ago when she moved to Johnson City to be closer to her son’s doctors. “I’ve got a place to live and that’s the main thing. I paid it once and I’ll pay it again. Everybody else can complain over it but I can meet it. I’m not moving out here to a trailer where you have to pay $300 deposit to turn the lights on and then worry about paying (lights).”
William Breeden, who was unemployed when he moved to the Keystone with his wife and children a few months ago, said he is paying $25 income-based rent per month for a three-bedroom apartment and expects his rent will increase when the housing authority recertifies his income from his new part-time job at the Family Dollar store near Keystone. “There’s been a lot of people talking about it in the store. There’s a lot who are going to have to move out and just find a place to live. A lot of people are worried and upset.”