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Fed guidelines to hurt low-income renters

BY LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

More than 200 tenants of the Paducah Housing Authority will soon face a substantial increase in rent due to changes in federal guidelines.

President Barack Obama in January signed the Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act, which sets flat rent rates for public housing at 80 percent of fair market rent. As a result, 256 public housing tenants in Paducah will see rents increase starting Sept. 1.

"It will be a crush," said Marzell Littleton, a resident who also works as an office assistant at the Paducah Housing Authority.

Littleton is mother to two teenage daughters and holds a second job as a hairstylist. Under the new guidelines, the rent she pays for her three-bedroom unit will surge from $439 to $613, an increase of $174.

"Basically, a lot of it is going to take away from providing for my kids," said Littleton, who has lived in public housing for several years but receives no other governmental assistance.

Tenants with the Paducah Housing Authority pay 30 percent of their adjusted income in rent, but may pay no less than $50 and no more than the applicable flat rent rate for their unit. The housing authority established those flat rates by surveying standard apartments in Paducah, according to Cal Ross, executive director of the housing authority.

Ross said the amended HUD guidelines strike a blow against working families, whom he calls the lifeblood of the housing authority. Tenants who were previously able to save money - or at least afford food, clothing, medicine and educational expenses - will now have to put that money toward rent.

"It's good for them (the federal government). It's bad for our residents," he said.

The change also harms the local housing authority, he added.

"People want to know what's in it for the housing authority. There's nothing in it for us, because the more money I collect in rent, the lower the federal subsidy (the housing authority receives)," Ross said.

He said the housing authority will send notice of the changes to flat-rate tenants in early August. He expects that many tenants will be forced to look for comparable housing in the private sector.

"We could not live without our working families, and they have to make some tough decisions - whether to stay or whether to move," he said.

Littleton said that her best option is probably to move out of public housing. If she can't find a cheaper place, she'll have to take a third job. Either way, it's a setback to her goal of making a down payment on a house.

"I do want to own my own home one day. Hopefully, I will get there," she said.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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