ALBEMARLE COUNTY

PHA Five-Year and Annual Plan

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY – Five-Year Plan FY 2005-2009 and Annual Plan

FY Beginning July 1, 2005

 

BACKGROUND

The Albemarle County Office of Housing is the designated local agency for the administration of the Housing Choice Voucher Program (hereinafter referred to as the program), formerly known as Section 8 Rental Assistance Program.  The Office is a part of the executive branch of local government and not a public housing authority.  However, with respect to the program, the Office must comply with requirements of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regarding activities as a Public Housing Agency (PHA) including the development of a 5-year PHA Plan and Annual Plans.

The Office of Housing last submitted a Five-Year Plan July 2001 for FY 2001-2005 and an Annual Plan every year thereafter.  The next Five-Year Plan covers fiscal years 2005 to 2009.

MISSION AND GOALS

It is the mission of the Albemarle County Office of Housing to

Promote opportunities for all county citizens to secure and maintain safe, decent, accessible, and affordable housing with emphasis given to those least able to obtain it.

In carrying out this mission, the following goals have been set:

·         Expand the supply of assisted housing by coordinating with and leveraging resources from other public and private entities;

·         Improve the quality of assisted housing through improved voucher management and increased client input;

·         Increase assisted housing choices by outreach to potential landlords and replacement of project-based assistance with tenant-based vouchers;

·         Promote self-sufficiency and asset development of families through the Family Self-sufficiency Program and comprehensive housing counseling; and

·         Ensure equal opportunity and affirmatively further fair housing by taking measures assuring equal access regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, familial status, and disability.

FIVE-YEAR PLAN FY 2005-2009/ANNUAL PLAN FY 2005-2006

The Consolidated Plans for the City of Charlottesville and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (2001 and 2003) identified housing needs for area residents and reported that residents continued to face difficulties securing and maintaining affordable housing.  The Office of Housing conducted a study that analyzed the population and housing demographics in Albemarle County utilizing various including but not limited to the U.S. Census Factfinder, Weldon Cooper Center and the Virginia Employment Commission datasets.  The data analysis was used to create a housing report on Affordable Housing Initiatives for Albemarle County (December 2003) and The Consolidated Plan for the City of Charlottesville and the Thomas Jefferson Planning District (2003).  The data indicated:

·         Thirty-eight percent (38%) of Albemarle County resident pay more than 30% of their income towards housing costs.  The County’s adopted Affordable Housing Policy defines housing affordability at no more than 30% of the household’s income.

·         Median rent for Albemarle County grew fifty-seven (57%) between 2001 and 2003.

·         Thirty-four percent (34%) of Albemarle County’s residents are renters

The County uses a variety of information related to existing housing stock, demographics, sales data, rental survey, and the Consolidated Plans to help develop strategies for increasing affordable housing opportunities.  These strategies include:

3.2   Promote a variety of safe, sanitary & affordable housing types

3.2.1Prepare Albemarle County residents for homeownership

3.2.2Promote public awareness and support for affordable housing needs

3.2.3                      Develop financial and public policy incentives to increase the production and sustainability of affordable housing

Waiting List

The Office of Housing maintains waiting lists for:

·         The Housing Choice Voucher Program including any local project-based vouchers

·         Scottsville School Mod Rehab Vouchers

In an effort to lease available vouchers, Albemarle County opened its waiting list in the fall of 2004.  Currently, the combined lists have seven hundred ninety-one (791) households waiting for rental assistance: Seventy-one percent (71%) are families with children; five (5%) are elderly households; and eleven (11%) have disabled family members.  Additionally, eighty-one percent (81%) are extremely low-income (earning 30% or less of the area median income); eighteen percent (18%) are very low-income (earning 30-50% of the area median income).

Screening and Admissions Preferences

The Office verifies eligibility using information provided by the applicant and through third-party verifications.  All applicants must submit a police report from local law enforcement to comply with HUD’s requirements related to criminal background of applicants.  It is the responsibility of the prospective landlord or agent to conduct credit reviews or other verifications consistent with their leasing criteria.  The Office offers at least 75% of new admissions to those families with incomes at or below 30% of the area median income (extremely low income).  Based on 81% of the waiting list meeting this designation, no special efforts are anticipated to comply with this targeting requirement.

Albemarle County’s waiting list management was changed in 2004 to include a preference for those that live and/or work in the county.  When the waiting list recently opened and closed on December 3, 2004, a random selection process was used to order the list with all preferences randomly ranked first.  From time to time and when special purpose vouchers are available, the Office may use other criteria related to eligibility for the special purpose vouchers.  Currently the only special vouchers available are through the Family Unification Program with emphasis on keeping families together in cases where lack of housing may result in children separated from parent(s).  The Office coordinates this program with the Department of Social Services.  Additional preferences that have been considered but are not being recommended at this time include those currently employed,

The Office of Housing will continue to assess housing needs and optional preferences in order to continue to provide a program that meets ever changing needs for a diverse population.  As such, the Office is not making a recommendation to add any preferences at this time.  Optional preferences include veterans; persons working or enrolled as students, and elderly/disabled.  Other local option preferences include veterans, student in an educational, training, or upward mobility program; persons involuntary displaced; victims of domestic violence; residents of substandard housing; and the homeless.

Upon issuance of a voucher, clients are provided a 60-day period in which to locate an affordable and acceptable housing unit.  If within this time the client is not successful, the Office may grant an extension if be requested in writing and supported by documentation of the client’s efforts in searching for housing.  In an effort to maintain a utilization rate of 98%, the Office generally limits extensions to cases where successful lease-up is imminent. 

Although not specifically required as a part of the Annual Plan, the Office of Housing requires all those persons not living in the County at time of application who eventually receive a voucher to lease in the County or City of Charlottesville for the first twelve months.  Thereafter, the voucher holder will have the right to “port out” to any jurisdiction.  This requirement could be waived to allow a reasonable accommodation for disabled persons.

Rent Calculation/Rent Reasonableness

The payment standard for rents is 110% of the fair market rent (FMR) for all one-, two-bedroom, and three- bedroom units.  All other units use a payment standard of 100% of the FMR.  The Office of Housing will continue to monitor the rental market as it relates to needed increases in the payment standard for all other unit sizes.  Fair market rent is based on rental costs for units of various bedroom sizes within the area.  In addition to using FMR, the Office keeps a database of rental units in the Charlottesville/Albemarle area.  Comparable units are located in the database for a rent reasonableness calculation.  The lesser of the FMR or rent reasonableness calculation becomes the contract rent.  NOTE:  FMR is gross rent inclusive of utilities.  To determine net rental any tenant-paid utilities must be subtracted from the FMR.  Rent reasonableness calculations will take into account the amenities offered to and utilities paid by the tenant.

Tenants are required to pay 30% of their adjusted gross income towards housing expenses when the rent is within the adopted payment standards for the program.  Tenants may choose to rent a property with a higher rent, however, assistance will be provided based on the approved payment standard.  In no case, will the Office approve an initial lease in which the gross rent (housing and utilities) exceeds 40% of the household income.

Minimum Rent – Currently the Office has a policy for each tenant to pay a minimum of $25 toward rent and/or utility costs but is proposing to raise the minimum to $50, the maximum allowed by HUD.  The minimum rent may be reduced or waived when necessary to provide reasonable accommodations.

Recalculation of Subsidy – The Office will continue to recalculate subsidy when there is a change in income in the household.  Clients are required to report all changes to the Office of Housing within thirty-days.  The Office has the discretion to calculate changes to rental subsidy at the time of notification or upon renewal.  Some of the reasons for recalculating assistance at the time of the income change include:

1.       Minimizes financial impact by adjusting rent at the time of income adjustment.  Tenants can find other means of spending increased income and be negatively impacted at time of renewal with a decreased rental subsidy.

2.       Decreased assistance will have positive budget implications in assisting other clients.

3.       Minimizes abuse of the program when tenants adjust their income downward prior to renewal.

OFFICE OF HOUSING

The Office of Housing has eight staff positions:

·         The Chief of Housing oversees the Office and all program activities and participates in developing/implementing policies related to affordable housing opportunities for the County;

·         Housing Planner provides research and analysis of housing programs and available resources and provides staff support to the Housing Committee;

·         Rental Coordinator provides daily oversight for the Housing Choice Voucher Program including managing program budgets/payments;

·         Two housing specialists who work with clients in issuing and renewing vouchers including participants in the Family Self-sufficiency Program and Family Unification Program;

·         One housing specialist who conducts inspections, makes rent reasonableness calculations, and negotiates rental rates;

·         One counselor assigned to the Homebuyers Clubs;

·         Office assistant that acts as receptionist directing clients to one of the specialists and coordinates activities with the waiting list.

GRIEVANCE PROCEDURES

The Office’s policy on informal hearings is as follows:

The housing specialists, in consultation with the Rental Coordinator, make initial determinations/decisions based on interpretation of program policy and procedures.  A client not agreeing with such determination/decision may make a written request for an informal hearing within ten days of notification of the action.  The Chief of Housing will act as hearing officer for the informal hearing.  If the Chief of Housing was directly involved in the initial action, another hearing officer will be designated.  Decisions made by the hearing officer will be based on interpretation of policy and regulations.

HOMEOWNERSHIP PROGRAM

Although allowed, the Office has not developed a program to allow use of Housing Choice Vouchers for homeownership.  The demand for rental assistance remains extremely high and is considered a high priority housing need for the very low- and extremely low-income residents of the County.  The County, however, supports homeownership for lower-income, first-time homebuyers by providing funding for counseling in its Homebuyers Clubs.  In addition, the County recently developed a Homebuyer Assistance Program to provide downpayment assistance using local general funds and HOME funds.  

CURRENT/PROJECTED ACTIVITIES

The Office has maintained over 400 vouchers under lease during the past year through the Housing Choice Voucher Program and the Scottsville School Mod Rehab Vouchers.  Twenty-four (24) of the County’s vouchers were committed as project-based for the renovation of a 96-unit apartment complex.  In addition, the County committed 12 vouchers as project-based for a new elderly development which is in its final planning stage.  The management and use of the Housing Choice Vouchers is designed to achieve and maintain a 98% lease-up rate.  As of March 29, 2005, 375 vouchers were under lease.  In addition, 32 mod rehab vouchers were under lease.

The Office of Housing in conjunction with the Housing Committee and the Affordable Housing Policy Advisory Committee has continued to work on an implementation plan for the Affordable Housing Policy which was adopted as a Comprehensive Plan Amendment in February 2004.   Some actions have been taken including opening a dialogue with developers on the County’s affordable housing goals, reviewing the roles and attributes of our nonprofit partners, developing a downpayment assistance program, and assessing the performance of our counseling programs and self-sufficiency programs.  A more comprehensive implementation plan should be completed by June 30, 2005. 

The Office continues to collect data to better understand housing needs and how those needs may or may not be met in the marketplace.  The County’s overall focus on data development and management will assist in identifying gaps and opportunities for future affordable housing initiatives. 

CHANGES AT HUD

Effective January 1, 2005, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development changed its funding methodology for the Housing Choice Voucher Program.  Prior to this time, HUD had reimbursed housing agencies for the actual costs of vouchers.  The County now receives a fixed amount as an annual budget with no contingency for over-leasing or increased housing assistance payments.  This requires constant (monthly) management of program funds including having applicants ready if a voucher becomes available.  The Office may begin issuing some type of reservation for a voucher to allow applicants to begin looking for eligible units.  The goal of the Office is to have at least a 98% utilization rate without over committing funds.

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