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Section 8 views cause flap at housing meeting

August 15, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Hagerstown City Councilwoman Penny May Nigh took her concerns about Section 8 landlords and tenants directly to the Hagerstown Housing Authority governing board Thursday, but the conversation turned into a heated argument.

After listing her concerns about public housing, Nigh said she periodically plans to attend the housing authority Board of Commissioners meetings.

"I am not a combative force. I just want the problems corrected," Nigh said.

Housing authority Executive Director Ted Shankle disagreed during the discussion that came at the end of the board's public meeting session.

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"You never seem to focus on what the housing authority is doing to help. That is where the combativeness comes in," Shankle said. "Where do you praise us? You never praise us."

"This is getting counterproductive," said M. Lynn Williams, the board's attorney.

At that point, the meeting ended.

At one point, Shankle noted that Nigh talked about crime problems in Noland Village but did not mention, for example, recent vandalism in Fountain Head.

"You keep picking on poor people," he said. Then, Shankle said he had to leave the meeting for a minute to compose himself.

"I have gone after private landlords more than I have gone after public housing," Nigh said. "I am not beating anyone up."

Shankle questioned why Nigh seemed more interested in noting that some people might be displaced by the Gateway Crossing development, which will replace the Westview Homes housing project, than in noting that the new development might help revitalize the neighborhood.

Nigh repeated an assertion, which Shankle disputes, that an increasing number of people from Frederick, Md., and farther are moving to Washington County to get public housing and other help.

"We know basically that is true," she said.

"Are these people actually our people or are they in fact the ones who just migrated here to get on the (waiting) list?" she asked.

Since November 2000, only five people, all elderly, moved into public housing without first having a Washington County address, Shankle said.

Federal law prohibits the agency from asking people how long they have lived at an address, he said.

"So one night's lodging at the Venice makes you a Hagerstown resident?" Nigh asked.

Any frustrations or problems the city has with Section 8 housing are no different than those experienced in other cities, he said.

On July 22, Nigh criticized Section 8 tenants during a Hagerstown City Council meeting, saying "all Section 8 people are not bad, but three-fourths of them are."

Nigh suggested then that people who live in Section 8 housing are more likely to cause problems in a community than other residents. She later said her statements were based on what she has seen and heard, not on a statistical study.

Shankle 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 has said.

Councilwoman Carol N. Moller, the council's representative on the housing board, could not attend Thursday's meeting due to another city obligation.

Under the Section 8 program, the Hagerstown Housing Authority makes federal rental assistance payments directly to private landlords on behalf of 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.

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