Housing Authority sued

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 14, 2004

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Mobile asks the judge for a restraining order to prevent 70 families from losing their Section 8 housing subsidies.

Filed by the Selma Housing Development Corporation (SHDC) against the Selma Housing Authority (SHA), the suit alleges several complaints including breach of contract, fraud and violation of due process.

The SHA’s attorney, John W. Kelly III, says his client has merely complied with federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) requirements while the SHDC has not.

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“He has a number of complaints set out in the lawsuit, all involve issues which have been dealt with by the Selma Housing Authority,” Kelly said.

“In each instance it has been the goal of the SHA to follow the law. It is the position of the SHA that is has strictly followed HUD rules and regulations. That is the policy of the board.”

Steve Smitherman, executive director of the SHDC, disagrees. “Everything we do is by the book,” Smitherman said.

At the heart of the suit is a rate reduction for the Section 8 tenants in the Woodrow East Subdivision.

Section 8 provides rent subsidies to families based on their income versus the size of the family.

The money is provided by the federal government (HUD) and distributed locally through the SHA to either the project managers themselves, or to the tenants who have qualified for assistance.

A letter from the SHA to a tenant in the subdivision states that the SHA will no longer renew a housing assistance payment contract with SHDC. The letter states the tenant can take the voucher to another, suitable unit, or the tenant can stay in the subdivision without the rental assistance payments.

Basically, tenants will have to move or live without the subsidies.

Smitherman says the removal of the SHA’s support came when the SHA accused the SHDC of not following proper protocol in giving the tenants a rate decrease.

Smitherman says HUD only requires 60 days notice on adverse rates changes, which means an increase in rent.

According to Smitherman, because the change was a decrease, the SHDC didn’t have to give the notice.

Kelly, however, said that the problem is bigger than one issue.

“It’s great to lower the rent, what he’s objecting to is the administration process,” Kelly said. “The thrust of this lawsuit is just a disagreement by the SHDC with the administrative decisions that have been made by the SHA basically in connection with its operation and management of federal funds under HUD rules. One of those decisions (was) that there had been so many rule violations and so much difficulty dealing with the SHDC the decision was made to terminate Housing Assistance Program contracts.”

The good news is that both Smitherman and the SHA say they will help the tenants so they do not end up left high and dry.

“The SHA is very concerned about the 70 tenants,” Kelly said. “They’ve pledged to assist these tenants in anyway they can.”

Smitherman said the SHDC would also make sure none of the 70 families, or about 250 people, are put out on the street.

“We like the tenants we have,” Smitherman said. “If they kick these tenants out, we’re not going to kick old ladies on to the street.”

The tenants however seem to want to keep the status quo.

A petition has been signed and circulated around the subdivision. About 50 tenants signed asking HUD to overrule the SHA’s decision.

Sarah Stewart, who has lived in the subdivision for seven years, said she wishes things could have worked out better between the SHA and the SHDC.

“It’s really sad. there’s going to be a lot of people out here looking for places to live,” she said. “These are real nice apartments. I was the first one out here. We have good people out here, (they) have really worked hard at getting good neighbors out here.”

Smitherman said that if the 70 families have to leave to keep their subsidies it could make things difficult.

He said the subdivision already has an extensive waiting list and that good rental housing can be hard to find in Selma.

“There’s a need for as much housing as you can get in Selma,” he said.

Though the office of mayor appoints the SHA board, the SHA is a separate entity and the City of Selma is not a party to the lawsuit, according to Kelly. The SHA does have its own private funds from property that it owns and manages.