Cleveland Housing Authority Executive Director Paul Dellinger said Thursday the refurbished townhomes will be marketed as “premier properties” when they are completed by the end of the year.
“As a premier property, it’s going to have significantly different qualification criteria than conventional public housing. There will be minimum income requirements for those units,” he said.
“We are still developing those requirements and getting our policy ready.”
Housing and Urban Development guidelines require that 40 percent of families admitted in a fiscal year must be in the extremely low-income category. The maximum gross income in that category can be no more than 30 percent of the area median income.
According to HUD figures, the median income of the Cleveland Metropolitan Statistical Area is $47,600. For a family of two, the maximum income is $11,850 and $14,800 for a family of four.
The premier property is for families with at least 50 percent of the annual median income for each family size. The income limit for a family of four is $24,700. The townhomes will have a separate waiting list from other CHA properties.
“They will have to be working at least 30 hours a week, because they are going to have to maintain the utilities in their names,” he said. “It’s going to be a different segment of the income segment that up until now we’ve really underserved.”
The average family in traditional public housing has a gross income of just over $10,000 a year. The average income includes households ranging in size from the elderly and disabled to families up to six and eight persons living in five-bedroom units. The majority of units are two-bedrooms for up to a four-person family of two adults and two children of the same sex.
“Ten thousand dollars is the average of all of the different family sizes that we serve,” Dellinger said.
When public housing is fully occupied, CHA serves 434 families. About one-third are elderly and disabled senior citizens.
“In 2008, we developed a strategic plan to guide our agency, and, over the past five years, we’ve made significant improvements in our traditional public housing locations,” he said. “We’ve made significant improvements from the curb appeal standpoint and mechanical improvements as well.”
The housing authority has worked hard to improve its inventory.
Dellinger said their complexes are comparable to housing in the public market. In 2012, for example, CHA completed a kitchen remodel of the units on Lay and Elrod streets.
“There are 120 units on that site, and every unit got new kitchen cabinets, countertops and fixtures. We’ve made strategic investments in all of our properties,” he said.
“We did that on purpose because we knew when we started this major renovation, we did not want to send any signals to either the citizens of Bradley County, nor did we want to send any signals to our residents that we were somehow abandoning them and focusing on one segment.”
For that reason, the agency made significant improvements in its other properties before starting the Baugh and Clemmer project.
An inventory of premier properties offers the housing authority opportunities because the economy still struggles, and competition for federal funding is challenging.
“We have to develop strategies for us to be able to sustain ourselves to continue to meet our mission, which we are not abandoning. That’s our whole reason for being here — to provide safe and affordable housing for folks that need it. We’re not leaving that mission,” Dellinger said. “However, in an environment of declining federal funds and increasingly burdensome regulations, it makes operating this agency very challenging.”
Because of the economic environment, the housing authority has developed goals for more self-funding and more self-sufficiency. If occupants of premier units have higher incomes, then their portion of the rent will be higher, which reduces the agency’s dependence on HUD subsidies.
“The way we do that is like any other property management company — producing a product that will be attractive and desirable for folks who will want to live there is one way we can work toward achieving that self-sufficiency and financial independence,” he said.
“We can do that without abandoning our core reason for being, which is still providing safe and affordable housing.”
Dellinger said housing authorities in Knoxville and Murfreesboro have operated premier properties for a number of years.
“It’s not a new idea, but it’s a direction Cleveland has not taken until now,” he said.
Tenants in public housing must meet certain criteria when they move into public housing, but after that, their income is unlimited.
“The idea is that as their income rises, their portion of the rent increases,” he said. “When their portion of the rent increases to the market rate, if they have a choice between their apartment owned by the housing authority or perhaps something with more amenities and fewer rules, they may decide they want to go someplace else. But, based on the improvements we’ve made in our properties and the improvements we’ve made in our operations, our properties are competitive and attractive. There is no reason to feel shame in living in public housing.”
“Again, we’re a hand up to help people along the way,” he said. “It’s not something that is going to necessarily be permanent.”