Section 8 struggles: Vouchers in Dayton region concentrated in low-income areas

Some concerned ‘source of income’ ordinance could further concentrate poverty without suburbs involved

Some of the poorest ZIP codes in Montgomery County, mainly in Dayton, have the highest number of rental units being paid for with federal housing vouchers, even though the Section 8 voucher program is designed to give low-income people greater choices about where to live, a Dayton Daily News investigation found.

Getting federal Section 8 housing choice vouchers is hard enough, given the intense demand for the funding and a long waiting list.

But finding a local landlord to accept the housing assistance can be very challenging since many do not like the program’s requirements or have negative opinions of voucher recipients, housing advocacy groups say.

The city of Dayton recently approved new rules that prohibit landlords from denying people housing just because they receive federal housing subsidies or other kinds of lawful income.

Dayton is one of just two local communities that have “source of income” laws, and some fair housing advocates think this could have unintended consequences.

“The (source of income) legislation could lead to Dayton having a higher concentration of” housing choice vouchers, said Jim McCarthy, president and CEO of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center. “Yes, overconcentration is a concern.”

The Dayton Daily News reached out to more than a dozen apartment complexes advertising rental properties in Dayton’s suburbs and not one accepted Section 8 housing vouchers. When asked by phone about it, several responded with almost the exact same phrasing: “We do not participate in that program.”

Housing vouchers

Data obtained by the Dayton Daily News from Greater Dayton Premier Management (GDPM), the local public housing authority, show that several ZIP codes that cover large parts of west, southwest and northwest Dayton have the most Section 8 housing vouchers in use in Montgomery County.

The housing choice voucher program is the nation’s largest rental housing program. The program is meant to help low-income families, elderly individuals and people with disabilities find decent-quality housing in the private market by providing subsidies.

Vouchers are highly effective at reducing homelessness and housing instability and they help improve outcomes for families and children, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Rental assistance helps lift many people out of poverty and reduces racial inequity, the organization said.

About 86% of voucher recipients in Montgomery County are Black, and most are single mothers with children, according to the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center.

Where they are used

Local public housing authorities like GDPM receive federal funds to administer the program from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Of the 5,878 vouchers administered by GDPM, about 2,625 (45%) were in three ZIP codes: 45417, 45405 and 45406, according to GDPM data.

Some or all of roughly 30 Dayton neighborhoods fall inside of these ZIP codes, plus parts of some inner ring suburbs, like Trotwood, Jefferson Twp. and Germantown.

These are mostly lower-income areas that are home to more than 65,000 people.

More than one-third of residents in the 45417 ZIP code (34%) have incomes below the federal poverty level, according to data from the U.S. Census’ American Community Survey.

About one-quarter of residents of the 45406 ZIP code live in poverty, and the poverty level is even higher in the 45405 ZIP code (27%), the data show. Statewide, about 14% of Ohioans live in poverty.

Nearly half of federal tax returns filed in the 45405 and 45406 zip codes reported adjusted gross incomes of less than $25,000, while about 53% of returns in the 45417 zip code were in that income bracket, according to IRS data for tax year 2020.

Why so many

Dayton has a much higher concentration of housing vouchers than other communities in Montgomery County possibly because of differences in housing costs and landlord discrimination, said Erin Kemple, vice president of inclusive community development and special projects with the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center.

Rents in other Montgomery County communities are higher than in Dayton, and that’s partly due to historic patterns of segregation, she said.

Public housing authorities like GDPM determine a payment standard that can be between 90% to 120% of fair market rent, which are the amounts HUD determines it costs to rent a moderately-priced dwelling unit in the local housing market.

Effective this year, GDPM’s payment standards are $908 for a single-bedroom unit, $1,162 for a two-bedroom unit and $1,662 for a four-bedroom unit.

That’s more than the average cost of rent in many Dayton suburbs, according to a recent Dayton Daily News analysis of rent values.

Multiple local landlords have complained that the local Fair Market Rents and payment standards are too low.

“Section 8 payments are way below the current market value,” said Paul Amergatcher, a Brookville resident who owns multiple rental properties in northwest Dayton.

Some landlords object to the amount of paperwork involved in participating in the program and the annual inspections HUD mandates, said McCarthy. Other landlords don’t want to adhere to the fair market rent amounts set by HUD, he said.

Source of income

Last month, the Dayton City Commission approved new legislation that bars landlords from refusing to rent or lease housing to people based on where they get the money to pay for the housing units.

These new source of income protections apply to child support, Social Security benefits, disability benefits, alimony and other types of legal sources of payment.

Notably, Dayton’s new law makes it illegal for landlords to deny people housing just because they receive housing assistance from the housing choice voucher Section 8 program.

Many community members say that Dayton’s new source of income protections mean that fewer voucher holders will be denied housing in the city, which they think is going to make a big difference and help many people who are having a hard time finding places that accept their vouchers.

Hundreds of people in the county who have vouchers right now have not been able to find housing they want that will accept them, according to GDPM.

But the new source of income protections also could result in the further concentration of housing vouchers in the city, according to Kemple and McCarthy.

Research shows that voucher holders who move after a source of income law has been enacted move into housing in neighborhoods with somewhat lower poverty rates and more racially diverse populations than their original neighborhoods, said Alicia Mazzara, deputy director for housing equity and data analysis with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Officials in some suburban cities in Montgomery County said they are not aware of any efforts to pursue source of income legislation.

“Miamisburg elected officials have not discussed, considered or adopted any legislation regarding landlords,” said Miamisburg City Manager Keith Johnson.

Marty Gehres, the clerk of the Dayton Municipal Court, said he does not believe Dayton’s source of income rules will have a major impact on the number of housing vouchers being used in the city. But he said it is extremely important that other local communities accept housing choice vouchers.

He said a lack of affordable housing is an issue across the entire Miami Valley region — not just in the city of Dayton.

“Currently, I am unaware of any efforts by our suburban communities concerning source of income legislation,” said Gehres, who helped draft the Dayton’s source of income legislation. “However, I am hopeful that other communities will join our efforts.”

Coming Monday: A legislative proposal aims to extend “source of income” protection statewide

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