Renters chasing American dream|Editor’s note: The following article continues an occasional series on building and housing conditions in Beaufort County.

Published 1:28 pm Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Staff Writer

A local landlord said there are bad actors in his field, but asserts that most landlords want what’s best for their tenants.
The landlord, who didn’t want to be identified for fear of reprisals, rents to low-income residents, often steering them to homeownership on a rent-to-own basis.
“I’m not heartless,” he said. “I’m not going to have someone living in substandard conditions.”
The landlord said it often costs him $1,500 to $2,000 when his tenants move out. He’s had to replace carpets, fix broken windows and do other extensive repairs to keep his properties fit to rent.
“My tenants can’t afford to put in a hot-water heater,” he said. “They live hand-to-mouth. I almost always get it fixed for them and say, ‘Pay me when you can.’”
Sometimes the courts have to intervene when tenants stop paying rent, and the legal process can take a lot of time and expense, he related.
“It’s tough to be a low-income landlord,” he said.
Yet, this landlord said he has comparatively few problems with tenants who receive assistance paying their rent through the Section 8 program, which is administered by agencies like the Washington Housing Authority.
The landlord said he has a handful of Section 8 tenants whose homes have to be inspected a couple of times a year. He added that Section 8 tenants are monitored more closely than the average renter.
Faced with high overhead and other frustrations, the landlord agreed that general education on how to care for a property would help alleviate some suffering.
“The last thing I want is a tenant to move out because that means I have to go through all that hassle again,” he commented.
A local housing official said most renters want to do the right thing, too.
This same official is working to get qualified tenants out of subsidized housing and into homes of their own.
‘They want that
American dream’
Shanetta Moye and her colleagues are ushering 25 to 30 low-income renters through a homeownership program administered by the Washington Housing Authority and Mid-East Regional Housing Authority.
The housing agencies guide eligible renters — working families on Section 8 and disabled people on Social Security disability — to self-sufficiency, sometimes working with the same clients for years at a time.
All of the program’s beneficiaries must complete what Moye refers to as “intensive homeownership education.”
“We always get calls from people thinking it’s a quick fix,” she said. “I try to tell them that anything worth having is worth working and waiting for.”
Moye, director of special programs for the housing authority, said it can take five or six years for participants to achieve homeownership.
Moye indicated this initiative is part of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development trend as the federal agency drifts away from traditional public housing and rental assistance.
“This is a way for HUD to assist us in getting our families self-sufficient and getting them off of government assistance to become successful homeowners,” she said.
It takes a highly motivated, goal-oriented renter to make it through the program, she confirmed.
“They want that American dream,” said Moye.
The program requires credit counseling, homeownership training and a savings component that directs adherents to set aside a certain amount of money, Moye explained. There’s also a post-homeownership class and spot checks to make sure the new homeowners are keeping up with their home maintenance and mortgage payments.
The amount of time a would-be homeowner spends in preparation for his or her ultimate goal varies from case to case.
“It’s just the luck of the draw,” Moye said. “It may take this person two years, and it may take another person four years. It just depends on their commitment and, I guess, their monetary stream, to see if they have some debts that they have to pay off, if they can afford to pay those debts off and also afford to put money aside to show the habit of saving.”
In roughly two years, one person has completed the program. This person, a single mother, had been in Section 8 housing for years, Moye said. The new homeowner closed on a home in September of last year, she said.
This year, another single mother is on the verge of getting loan approval through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, according to Moye.
“And she’s been one to beat the odds,” she added.
With lenders reluctant to accommodate even well-off borrowers with good credit histories, Moye acknowledged her job has gotten tougher in these economic hard times.
“Our clients are no different,” she said. “To the lenders, they are the general public as well, coming in for a mortgage loan. … We don’t send them to a lender until we’re sure they’re ready to go out there and that they will qualify for a loan.”
The journey those clients take could be viewed as a highly personal one, especially by Moye, who lived in public housing as a child.
Now, the housing official and her husband own their own home in the country.
And Moye would like to place more people on the same path, something she’s striving for every day.
“We do have a lot of tenants that would love to be in the homeownership program,” she said. “We do know that’s not for everybody.”
And she continues evaluating applicants who, like so many others, are waiting for the economy to improve — for jobs to come back, for wages to rise, for loans to become more accessible.
“It’s not exactly where we want it to be today,” Moye said of the program, “but we’re getting there.”