If Mayor Pat McCrory has his way, people receiving federal Section 8 housing subsidies would have to abide by rules already common in public housing programs.
"If you are in public housing [or] you're getting public subsidies, you have a responsibility to try to go get a job, to raise your children the right way, and to go to training and do other activities, or ... public funds will be taken away from you," McCrory said.
The mayor's comments came at an Oct. 23 east Charlotte candidate's forum -- also attended by Democratic challenger state Rep. Beverly Earle -- in response to a question posed by neighborhood groups concerned about the concentration of low-income housing in the area.
For years, east Charlotte residents have complained that too many Section 8 vouchers were dumped in the area, endangering neighborhoods with crime and lowered property values.
The vouchers are part of a federal housing program that provides rental subsidies to low-income people, who must rent from a list of approved private landlords. In Charlotte, recipients must make less than 30 percent of the area median income -- about $19,300 in 2006 for a family of four.
McCrory said he's spoken with the Charlotte Housing Authority and is working with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to get a waiver that would allow the Charlotte Housing Authority to set rules for Section 8 recipients. That waiver, he said, was being held up by a "liberal" U.S. senator whose name he couldn't immediately recall.
McCrory didn't return calls seeking further comment, but Troy White, CHA's chief operating officer, confirmed the housing authority is seeking a waiver so it can work with residents to get them on the path out of public housing, through job training, GED classes and "everything you can imagine."
For now, residents wouldn't be forced to participate in the program. Nor would it carry a punitive component, unlike the controversial "one-strike" no-drug, no-crime policies that have been common in public housing since the 1990s. "This is about moving folks through [the system] and getting them self-sufficient," White said.
McCrory, however, seemed to link rules to requirements. "One of our major problems with Section 8 housing, regardless of where it is in the community, is that we're not putting any requirements on the tenants that are getting that Section 8 voucher," he said at the east Charlotte forum.
Rules governing the lives of public housing residents have struck some advocates for tenants' rights as draconian policies that can unfairly evict law-abiding people, but supporters say such rules have led to safer communities. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with supporters when it upheld housing authorities' right to evict tenants for drug-related crimes, even if the crime was committed by a guest or someone else in the household.
In Charlotte, many people were upset when a few families were evicted from public housing after some teens were found playing basketball in a closed recreation center at The Park at Oaklawn in north Charlotte. But Jud Little, division president of Crosland Apartments, which manages the complex, said the evictions came after a series of problems, vandalism and stolen keys, which violated the terms of the families' leases.
Little said the rules have been successful. "We've got long waiting lists," he said. "If places have a long waiting list to get in, I think the message from the market's clear."
Some east Charlotte residents who listened to McCrory's proposal, however, weren't satisfied with the mayor's proposal, which came in response to the question, "Is there too much Section 8 in east Charlotte, and, if so, what will you do to get it capped and reduced?"
McCrory said, "The major issue is there are no requirements being put on the tenants of Section 8, regardless of where they go in the city."
Earle's response was that low-income housing shouldn't be concentrated in any part of the city. "Section 8 ought to be distributed well around the city, not just in certain pockets," she said. "I don't feel like you've got to go to the federal government to have restrictions put on Section 8 tenants. The only thing that needs to be done is for our public housing authority to make requirements, to have classes, to do what is necessary. There needs to be some direction from the council to require them to have more oversight over their tenants."
Neither McCrory nor Earle answered the question, said John Autry of the Coventry Woods Neighborhood Association.
"What the mayor proposed is a too-easy and misleading non-answer," Autry wrote in an e-mail. Autry, a supervisor on the Mecklenburg Soil and Water Conservation District Board, is also running to unseat U.S. Rep. Robin Hayes.
"And it does not solve east Charlotte's problem," he continued. "The problem is that too many overly large, deteriorating and absentee-owned apartment complexes are rife with crime, and Section 8 money keeps those places financially afloat; vouchers are guaranteed to arrive. That easy money allows absentee-owners to slide along without property maintenance or improvements."
Charlotte Housing Authority spokeswoman Jennifer Gallman was unaware of McCrory's proposal and was still seeking information from the mayor's office at press time.
As of Sept. 6, CHA had authorized 4,250 vouchers, and more than 300 vouchers received in other cities were used to rent apartments and houses here. Another 3,900 households were on a waiting list.
In April, the housing authority opened the waiting list for only two weeks and received more than 10,000 applicants hoping to land on the waiting list through a lottery.