Section 8 renters displaced due to landlord’s accused fraud face ‘closed door after closed door’

Families have been forced to move from their rental apartments because their landlord is accused of defrauding the Section 8 program that they use to pay their rent.

In one building on Benchwood Road in Butler Twp., this includes five single mothers. All five have jobs or are getting back to work after the pandemic and use assistance from Section 8 to cover their rent.

They are among 43 families Greater Dayton Premier Management, the local housing authority, says have to move because their landlord, Antoine Draines, is suspected of defrauding the Section 8 program.

Including them, there are 77 area families on Section 8 vouchers needing to relocate for various reasons, according to GDPM. But the agency’s website lists 42 units that accept vouchers. None of them are north of Harrison Twp.

The residents from Benchwood Road say they have called dozens of places to see if they would be willing to accept Section 8.

“It’s a battle. And when you don’t have help, who do you go to?” said Brittany Adams, mother of two who works at a restaurant downtown and is trying to finish her counseling degree from Sinclair Community College.

“It’s closed door after closed door after closed door after closed door for us,” she said.

“You get used to people saying no,” said her neighbor Tamika Heard, a mother of three who works at a fast food restaurant in Englewood.

Jim McCarthy, CEO of the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center, said fewer people moving during the pandemic has exacerbated a longstanding issue: participation in Section 8 is voluntary for housing providers, and many won’t take it.

“It can be very difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible to utilize the voucher,” he said.

Elizabeth Smith said she gets online every night after her three young kids go to bed and searches for a place where she feels safe raising them — a quiet neighborhood like the one she is being forced to leave.

“This is totally not our fault,” she said.

Marcela Moreno said most places tell her they won’t take a Section 8 voucher, and those that do ask for more than the program will pay or are in neighborhoods where she and her 9-year-old son would be surrounded by abandoned houses.

Moreno runs a massage business out of her home.

“I can’t just settle for anything because I have people that come into my home because I work on them. I want them to feel comfortable in the neighborhood they are parking their car in,” she said.

GDPM will stop paying rent at Draines’ properties in July, giving residents like those on Benchwood two months. But the process of getting an apartment takes longer with Section 8 because of a required inspection process. Neighbor Sonia Long thought she had a place lined up, but after several weeks it failed to meet GDPM inspections.

Now she said she is agonizing over whether to pay an $80 application fee to another place, on the chance it might turn her down because of her credit score.

“I just want to be in a safe neighborhood. That’s my thing. A not-having-to-be-in-by-dark type neighborhood,” said Long, who has two kids and works at a nursing home and is trying to get a nursing degree.

“If I get off of Section 8 I’ll probably never go back to school,” she said.

Section 8 ‘misconceptions’

The women rent from Draines’ company Freedom for Living Property Management. Freedom for Living already has Long’s unit advertised for rent to someone else, starting in July.

A Dayton Daily News investigation found Freedom for Living received hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent assistance through a local, federally funded program to help renters stay in their homes during the COVID-19 outbreak, but allegedly didn’t pass the benefit on to tenants. Several investigations are under way.

For Long, the company got eight months of rent through the program at a higher rate than she paid after the voucher. Her neighbors say they paid their portion of their rent — and GDPM paid the rest — for months that county records show Freedom for Living was paid by the rental assistance program in their names.

During the newspaper’s investigation, GDPM says it found Draines was billing Section 8 for a home where the Section 8 tenant hadn’t lived for more than a year and barred him from the program.

Draines did not return a call seeking comment for this story. Freedom for Living officials have previously declined to comment on these issues. No one connected to Freedom for Living is charged with a crime.

GDPM Executive Director Jennifer Heapy said her agency is prioritizing processing vouchers for Draines’ renters and working with Miami Valley Community Action Partnership to help cover relocation expenses.

“We understand the stress and the pressure that this has placed on the residents through no fault of their own,” she said.

Section 8 pays market rates. For a three-bedroom, for example, it’ll pay up to $1,122 a month. But Heapy said there are “misconceptions” that keep landlords from accepting Section 8 vouchers.

“I think you can probably imagine some of the standard myths: that the tenants are difficult, there’s a lot of red tape, the inspection process,” she said. “I think it’s important to note that a lot of those myths can be dispelled.”

“(Housing providers) can be assured that these individuals have been long-term program participants, they have not had any kind of program violation, they go through a screening process,” she said. “And on top of that it’s guaranteed money.”

She said the inspection process isn’t cumbersome.

”Were not out here asking for granite countertops and stainless steel appliances,” she said. “We just want to make sure the unit is safe to live in, which I’m sure a reasonable landlord and responsible landlord is already maintaining.”

‘They think that we’re not good people’

Mike Frye, vice president of the Miami Valley Real Estate Investors Association, said Section 8 requires housing providers to jump through more hoops than just renting out a unit, and doesn’t pay any more money.

In a tight rental market — “Everything I have is rented,” he said — there is little incentive to go through a whole inspection process when you can just rent it out to someone else right away. He said most housing providers are small operations that can’t afford to leave units empty longer than necessary.

Frye suggested GDPM could give tentative approval on an emergency basis for these residents to move into a property during the inspection process, and in general expedite the inspections to attract more providers to the program.

Frye said he personally has a Section 8 property and the resident has been great. He doesn’t think Section 8 renters pose any more trouble than other renters. He said regardless of the source of income, housing providers should do background checks and due diligence to make sure a renter is successful.

Tammy Smith would be happy to get that far. Smith lives on Benchwood Road at a Freedom for Living property. She showed a reporter multiple Facebook messages and emails from housing providers turning her down before she could apply.

“We do not accept pets and we do not accept Section 8 at this time, please do not ask,” one listing says.

Smith used to be a teacher but can’t work anymore because health issues left her on disability.

“They think that we’re not good people and wouldn’t keep (the property) up, which is totally the opposite. We have to keep up our property. And their money is guaranteed,” she said.

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