Easily accessible, affordable and safe housing in the Athens area has been a struggle for years, and it appears one less major landlord will be working with the Athens Metropolitan Housing Authority to provide Section 8 housing in the city.

According to David Mott, legal counsel for AMHA, earlier in the year it “became apparent” that Prokos Rentals’ business practices and the HUD program requirements “were growing incompatible.”

“Because of the incompatibility, there was no remediation plan that would have been feasible, and thus none was ever offered to Prokos Rentals,” Mott told The Messenger on Thursday. “The AMHA Board of Commissioners decided to wind down, and eventually end, its business relationship with Prokos Rentals and affiliated individuals and entities.”

The AMHA is tasked with providing decent, safe, and sanitary housing, in good repair, to low-income families at an affordable rent. According to the Housing Authority’s website, the AMHA screens applicants for public housing and, if they are found eligible and accepted, the AMHA offers the applicant a voucher. The tenant is responsible for finding a suitable living situation and landlord willing to accept the vouchers. Then the AMHA will enter into a lease with the applicant, who thus becomes a public housing tenant.

The AMHA does not place tenants with landlords, Mott said. That is because the regulations list disqualifying items, but not qualifying requirements for the housing unit.

“Accordingly, there is no way for AMHA to say there are X number of HUD approved units in a particular area or that a particular landlord is looking to start on the program and start taking on HUD tenants,” Mott explained.

However, the AMHA website states that it currently operates 71 units of public housing; 44 multi-family units (townhouses) that consists of 2 to 5 bedroom units and 27 scattered site single family detached 3 and 4 bedroom homes.

Income limits are used to determine eligibility, and include three categories: Families whose annual income does not exceed 80 percent of the median income area, adjusted for family size; families whose annual income does not exceed 50 percent of the median income for the area, adjusted for family size; and families whose annual income does not exceed 30, 50 or 80 percent of the median income for the area, adjusted for family size.

According to Lori Boegerhausen, a member of United Athens County Tenants, the tenant’s rights group was told around 60 families will be impacted by this change.

However, AMHA has no say in whether tenants will stay or leave, Mott said.

“AMHA will only be unable to provide rent assistance to tenants in Prokos Rentals properties,” he said, noting that the office is legally constrained from telling tenants they need to move out. “Each tenant will need to make an independent decision whether to relocate or to stay in the unit on whatever terms that tenant and Prokos Rentals find mutually acceptable. Federal requirements prohibit AMHA from sharing specifics as to the tenants affected, but AMHA and its partners in the community are making every effort to provide the affected tenants with as much service and support as possible in navigating any transition.”

Boegerhausen said the United Athens County Tenants organization believes letters were sent to tenants notifying them of the changes, but a copy has not been provided to The Messenger by the Friday print deadline. She noted the lack of HUD units in the area.

“I live in Nelsonville, and it’s nearly impossible to find multiple bedroom apartments that are HUD approved,” she explained. “A lot of landlords don’t make HUD housing a priority, and there’s a myth that Section 8 tenants are bad and will destroy property — that is very much a misnomer.”

Damon Krane, also a member of United Athens County Tenants, ran for Athens City Mayor in 2019, using a platform of increasing the city’s housing code, to update the city’s housing infrastructure, and increasing the Code Office’s budget to help the office crack down on infractions. He says the issues have not changed, despite endorsements of better housing options for low-income residents of the area from two members of city council: Sarah Grace and Beth Clodfelter.

They specifically expressed support of a ban on income discrimination which would prevent landlords from choosing not to offer housing off that criteria.

“Since elected Grace and Clodfelter haven’t followed through with any proposed ordinance, and a few months back they both chose not to respond when tagged in questions about the issue on the SEO Mutual Aid Facebook page,” Krane told The Messenger on Thursday.

He also noted that according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s nation-wide 2020 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program, Athens County has the worst housing problems in the entire state of Ohio. The severe housing issues is listed as a health factor regarding an individual’s physical environment, utilizing data from 2012-2016.

To help address the issue, Krane and Boegerhausen say the United Athens County Tenants group will be seeking action from the city council to create a ban on income discrimination. Whether this can be extended across the county remains to be seen, as does whether the Athens City Council will be receptive and supportive to the measure.

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