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City council hears concerns over transfer of Section 8 office
Tuesday, April 8, 2014
By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer
Martinsville City Council on Monday heard concerns from west side residents about transferring the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program to Danville and the fate of the building that houses the program.
The council recently adopted a resolution to seek U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) approval to transfer the program to the Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority. The move would save the city about $65,000 a year by not having to operate the Housing Services Office on Fourth Street, officials have said.
During a neighborhood meeting Monday night at that building, Third Street resident Tony Jones said people leaving nearby do not want to lose the city-owned structure, such as if it was to be sold to a private owner.
Jones suggested selling the building to the west side community for $1 and letting the community decide what it will be used for in the future.
Peter Harris of D Street echoed that thought.
It would be “a perfect opportunity,” Jones said, for the city to show that it “stands behind the west end.”
The west side is a largely minority neighborhood.
“That’s a great idea,” Mayor Kim Adkins told Jones, “... but there may be others” that people have and that the council may want to consider.
If the city were to sell or donate the building to the community, there would have to be “something (official) to donate it to,” Adkins said.
A public hearing would have to be held before the city could dispose of the building in any way, said City Attorney Eric Monday.
Assistant City Manager/Community Development Director Wayne Knox said that because HUD has not yet approved transferring Section 8 to Danville, it is not yet certain that Martinsville will be giving up the program.
About 430 Martinsville and Henry County households participate in the city Section 8 program, receiving help from HUD in paying rent and utility costs.
Section 8 refers to a section of the Housing Act of 1937 that authorized federal assistance payments for rental housing.
The building on Fourth Street has been used for various purposes over the years, including an elementary school and police training academy.
It also now serves as a voting precinct. Lawrence Mitchell of Second Street asked where neighborhood residents would vote if the building is sold. Adkins said that would be the Martinsville Electoral Board’s decision.
Harris said he would “like to see us stand up independently” — without Danville providing services to Martinsville-Henry County residents. He said Martinsville does not need another city to “bail us out” of financial hardships.
Others in the crowd of about 50 people indicated out loud that they agreed.
Adkins said she thinks that by taking Martinsville and Henry County Section 8 participants, Danville will be allowed by HUD to provide more services to them, such as a program helping military veterans find housing.
Because Martinsville’s program is smaller, it has been limited in the services that HUD lets it provide, she said.
If the transfer occurs, “people will have to adapt” to some changes, Knox said, such as calling a toll-free number to talk to employees in Danville’s housing office.
He said, though, that he expects the Danville authority would have a locally based housing inspector and send an employee to the Martinsville area when needed to meet with Section 8 participants who cannot travel out of town.
“They will not be able to forget the recipients and applicants here,” Knox said. “HUD will not allow that.”
Councilwoman Sharon Brooks Hodge recalled that “not one person” spoke during a public comment time allotted during the March 25 council session before the vote to pursue transferring Section 8 to Danville was taken.
“If there are concerns” about an issue, Hodge told the crowd, “let us know before we vote on it.”
On Monday afternoon, council members and other city officials toured the west side in a van to see the conditions of properties there. Problems they noticed included several illegal trash dumps and several dilapidated structures that the city may target for demolition, according to Deputy Fire Marshal and Property Maintenance Official Andy Powers.
During the meeting that night, neighborhood residents brought numerous concerns to the council’s attention.
Among them was Cynthia Ingram, who said Yorkshire Road, where she lives, needs more policing, lighting and sidewalks.
The sidewalks would keep children from having to play in the street, she indicated.
Another neighborhood resident, Willie Mae Harris, voiced frustration with people living in rental housing there discarding items improperly.
“Sometimes ... trash will be there for a whole month” before it is cleaned up, and wild animals will strew it around the neighborhood, she said.
For homeowners who maintain their properties well, “it really frets you ... (that rental property owners) put people in there who don’t care anything about the neighborhood.”
Powers mentioned that the city recently has stepped up enforcement of its property maintenance and nuisance ordinances, with police and public works department employees now able to issue citations for violations they see.