Open Government Project
A Government Watchdog Group
State of Texas
City of Galveston
Public Interest Groups
Section 8 Update!
by David Stanowski
28 April 2010
The latest estimate from the Census Bureau shows the U.S. population to be 307,006,500, while HUD says that it currently has 4,795,108 people living in Section 8 housing nationwide. This means that 1.56% of the U.S. population lives in Section 8 housing. In addition, HUD statistics show that the average household size for families living in Section 8 properties is 2.5 people.
The latest estimate of Galveston's population, just completed by Texas A&M University, is 48,373. Therefore, for this city to be in line with the national average, it should have 48,373 x .0156 = 755 people living in Section 8 housing. With a national average of 2.5 people per household, Galveston should have 755 / 2.5 = 302 Section 8 housing units.
The latest data from the GHA reveals that they are currently managing 502 Section 8 units in the City of Galveston which is 66% more than the national average! However, that's not the whole story!
In March, the GHA started a pilot plan to add 100 project-based Section 8 units to the mix. This will bring the total to 602 which is almost double the number (302) the City would have if it was at the national average.
Finally, the GOGP has just confirmed that HUD's Houston field office has oversight for another 192 project-based Section 8 voucher units at Sandpiper Cove (see page 9). This brings the total Section 8 units in the City to 794; or 163% more than the national average of 302 for a city this size!
In other words, approximately 4.10% of Galveston's residents are living under the Section 8 program as compared to 1.56% of the total U.S. population!
HUD defines Section 8 as a rent subsidy program, but it does not specify the amount of the subsidy, or offer any data on typical amounts paid around the country. Some might consider a subsidy as an amount paid to help a tenant "make their rent" after they have already contributed the majority of the payment due.
The latest data on the 502 standard Section 8 vouchers, managed by the GHA, and currently being used for housing in the City of Galveston, were examined to see how many tenants were paying at least 75% of the rent. Only 6 families out of the 502 (1.19%) were paying 75% or more of the rent, so this is obviously not the correct definition of a rent subsidy in this city.
A more relaxed definition of subsidy might be where the tenant pays more than half (50%) of the rent. In this case, 36 out of the 502 (7.17%) met that criteria in the City of Galveston. Clearly, at least in this city, most voucher holders (92.83%) do not pay at least half of their own rent.
In fact, the data revealed that 93 families out of the 502 (18.52%) were paying no rent. This was quite shocking since families are required to pay 30% of their income, and the GHA continually tells us that nearly all of their Section 8 clients are employed. Paying no rent means that they have no income.
With 332 of the 502 families in this group paying less than 25% of their own rent, and with the taxpayers making up the difference, the concept of rent subsidy clearly does not mean helping people make up a small amount that they are short each month, it means paying most of the rent, in most cases. In fact the average rent paid by Section 8 voucher holders in this city is $157/month.
Some would say that the 502 vouchers are a benefit to the City, because the tenants only pay $948,372 per year in rent on these units while HUD pays the property owners an additional $4,108,332 in rent subsidies which flows into the local economy. Of course, these rent subsidies are paid for through higher federal taxes on everyone who actually pays federal income tax; another way to redistribute income.
If this is a program that most of our residents support, then the Urban Land Institute tells us that we have nearly 9,000 vacant housing units, that are all potential Section 8 properties, which could house approximately 22,500 additional Section 8 clients! That would be one way to grow the population quickly. However, even those who support the Section 8 program might see a limit to what this city can handle. If we already have more than twice the national average number of units, do we want more, or do we really need less?
Others would say that the Section 8 program has already begun to show the same effects on cities as public housing has clearly demonstrated in terms of its socio-economic costs such as crime, the negative impact on the local school system, and blight. It is very difficult to put a dollar amount on these costs, or what it costs a city when people become discouraged by the impact of public housing and Section 8 housing on the quality of their lives, and move somewhere else; but it is profound!
Cities such as Memphis have noticed:
"Janikowski merged his computer map of crime patterns with Betts’s map of Section 8 rentals. ... the match was near-perfect. On the merged map, dense violent-crime areas are shaded dark blue, and Section 8 addresses are represented by little red dots. All of the dark-blue areas are covered in little red dots, like bursts of gunfire. The rest of the city has almost no dots.
Betts remembers her discomfort as she looked at the map. The couple had been musing about the connection for months, but they were amazed—and deflated—to see how perfectly the two data sets fit together. She knew right away that this would be a “hard thing to say or write.” Nobody in the antipoverty community and nobody in city leadership was going to welcome the news that the noble experiment that they’d been engaged in for the past decade had been bringing the city down, in ways they’d never expected. But the connection was too obvious to ignore, and Betts and Janikowski figured that the same thing must be happening all around the country."
American Murder Mystery, The Atlantic Magazine, July/August 2008
"From what I've seen, the arrival of Section 8 housing in a suburban community causes crime and police calls for service to spike up almost immediately."
"In each case the pattern was the same: a single mother with a relatively clean background was the renter, and she was followed by an assortment of adult male relatives, ex-boyfriends and associates."
"Each time that I've talked with one of the renters, she's seemed genuinely willing to improve her life. She has also seemed powerless to do anything about the behavior of her sons, or the other men in her life. Those young men appear less interested in taking advantage of the schools, programs and jobs in their new neighborhood than they are in re-creating the urban blight and ghetto lifestyle that mom, auntie or grandma tried to move away from."
The people of Galveston need to determine the size and the scope of the Section 8 programs that they want in their city. Those who see no need to limit this program should ask themselves why League City, Dickinson, and Friendswood aren't fighting to get their "fair share" of Section 8 vouchers even as Galveston carries double their share. What do they know that Galveston does not know?
Those who see the necessity of strict limitations need to talk to the mayoral candidates and tell them about the dramatic changes that they expect to see on the new GHA Board after the election. That is the only way to exert some control over this program.
In the meantime, maybe GPD can do the same study as Memphis PD to see how our crime maps and Section 8 maps line up!
Section 8 is Broken
As Program Moves Poor to Suburbs, Tensions Follow