A recent move by the Raleigh Housing Authority to eliminate 60 public housing units prompted questions this week, but officials say it’s a necessary step to comply with federal changes.
Raleigh Housing Authority (RHA) Executive Director Steve Beam explained the changes during Tuesday’s regular City Council meeting after Councilors questioned the elimination of 60 public housing units in the Capitol Park development.
Councilor Eugene Weeks said at a time when the city is talking about ending homelessness, “you’re almost promoting people to be homeless.”
Beam said the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is pushing housing authorities to remove units from their public housing inventory and transition them to the Section 8 program, which provides vouchers for market-rate units.
HUD is trying to replace the public housing program with the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program. Beam said the RAD program won’t work for Raleigh because once a development is turned into Section 8, HUD locks in the funding that the housing authority is already receiving, which might leave RHA in financial straits.
Instead, he proposes to transition 60 Capitol Park units from public housing into affordable market rate housing. Such housing accepts tenants based on incomes that are 80 percent of the area median income (AMI) established by HUD.
In RHA’s case, the converted units would be owned by Capital Area Development, the nonprofit development arm of the RHA. RHA would maintain the units.
Residents who live in the units will receive vouchers, which they can use to find other housing or to remain at Capitol Park. If they choose to stay, a tenant’s rent payment will remain the same as long as they use the voucher, which is based on income.
After the tenant leaves, the unit converts to affordable market rate.
Beam must still get HUD approval for his proposal.
Councilor Thomas Crowder said he was uncomfortable with HUD’s push to privatize the program.
Earlier this month two Republicans, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and U.S. Rep. George Holding of Raleigh, announced they wanted a federal investigation into RHA and Beam’s time off.
Crowder said that Councilors should ask their representatives to instead look into the changes at HUD.
“I’d rather have it under the authority of the housing authority than the private sector,” Crowder said.
Questions of Oversight
After Beam’s salary and compensatory time was reported by local news outlets, Councilors began questioning what kind of oversight the city has over the RHA.
City Attorney Thomas McCormick said oversight is limited.
By state statute, the RHA is its own separate entity chartered by the state. Once the mayor appoints the board members, the city’s oversight of the RHA ends.
In extraordinary situations, he said, the city could dissolve the board or the housing authority itself and, in essence, become the housing authority. To do that, the city would have to prove malfeasance by the board members or the RHA.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, community advocate Octavia Rainey called on Mayor Nancy McFarlane to appoint more black residents to the board.
“That board is too white,” she said.
Currently, all but one of the seven board members are white. There is also only one woman on the board.
On top of racial diversity, Rainey said the board lacks geographic diversity. There is no representation from southeast Raleigh.
Rainey also said that the changes to Capitol Park would hurt black residents.
Councilors asked planning staff to come back with a report on the street names that will be used for the Walnut Terrace project now under construction.
Walnut Terrace will have 147 affordable market rate units and 145 public housing units.
The new project, which is set to be completed this year, uses the names of magicians for the streets.
Beam is also a professional magician and reportedly uses his compensatory time to attend magic conventions.
Staff will bring a report to Council in two weeks.