Nigh blasts housing program

July 24, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

Responding to a city resident's complaints of crime and mischief in her neighborhood, Hagerstown Councilwoman Penny May Nigh criticized a low-income rental program at Tuesday night's meeting, saying that "all Section 8 people are not bad, but three-fourths of them are."

Nigh also suggested that people who live in Section 8 housing are more likely to cause problems in a community than other residents.

Nigh on Wednesday said her statements are based on what she has seen and heard, not on a statistical study.

"Penny sometimes has a tendency to label things, which can be a dangerous thing," Councilman N. Linn Hendershot said Wednesday.

Hendershot said not all Section 8 residents are bad just as, for example, not all residents of the Fountain Head area are good.


Council members Carol N. Moller and Lewis C. Metzner said Wednesday they disagree with Nigh's statement that 75 percent of Section 8 housing residents are "bad."

"Just because they live in Section 8 housing does not mean they are a potential criminal," Moller said.

Under the Section 8 program, federal rental assistance payments are made by the Hagerstown Housing Authority directly to private landlords on behalf of the clients. To qualify for Section 8 housing, it is necessary to meet certain income level and family size requirements. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds the program.

Nigh has criticized Section 8 renters in the past but her criticisms were more scathing Tuesday after a new Hagerstown homeowner, Jamey Nystrom, described a series of crime problems at or near her home on East Antietam Street.

Nigh said she understands the woman's problems because the neighborhood near her home on North Mulberry Street has had its share of problems.

"I am in a war zone just like you," Nigh said.

Nigh attributed some of the problems in both neighborhoods to Section 8 residents.

"Where you are living is an eyesore. It is a hellhole," Nigh said.

Council members have criticized her for taking such a stance, she said.

"I am not negative. I am telling the truth," she said.

Nystrom on Wednesday said she disagrees with Nigh's characterization of Nystrom's neighborhood and the suggestion that Section 8 residents generally are bad. She said she knows some Section 8 residents who are good and some who are bad.

Her neighborhood does need work, and she is frustrated about problems that have ranged from someone burning her fence to intoxicated people passing out on her property, she said.

Her family, which just moved into the home in March, is considering moving outside the city limits, she said.

"Who do you want to stay? Me or the bum passed out?" she asked the City Council on Tuesday.

Hagerstown Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said Wednesday that Nigh is entitled to say what she believes but said he questions how she determines who is good or bad.

Ted Shankle, executive director of the Hagerstown Housing Authority, said he was not aware of any evidence that the majority of Section 8 residents are "bad" or causing problems.

If people living in Section 8 housing are convicted of violating a law, they are required to move out, Shankle said.

Part of the problem is that properties that are Section 8 do not always remain that way, he said. When residents and others try to determine whether a house is Section 8, they usually guess wrong, he said.

This was not the first time Nigh and Shankle have disagreed.

Nigh has stated repeatedly at meetings that the city needs to stop or discourage people coming from other counties to Hagerstown to move into Hagerstown public housing units.

But Shankle has said all but 2 percent of the city's public housing units are occupied by local people and local residents are given preference in the authority's application process.

Section 8 housing

There are 884 families - 2,004 people - living in Section 8 housing in the City of Hagerstown.

Of those:

  • 919 people are under 18 years of age.

  • 443 families - or 48 percent - have a disabled or elderly member.

  • 39 percent of the heads of households are employed.

  • 22 percent of the heads of household are on Social Security because they are elderly.

  • 21.7 percent of the heads of household are on Supplemental Social Security because they are disabled.

Source: Hagerstown Housing Authority

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