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City landlords say most problem tenants aren't Section 8 renter

August 17, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Since her comments about tenants in the federal Section 8 rental assistance program sparked controversy last month, Hagerstown City Councilwoman Penny May Nigh says she's heard from a number of people who agree with her.

"I have had letters from people who know the problem," she said. "People have called and said it's been a nightmare."

One example, she said, was a letter from a brother and sister in Greencastle, Pa., who said they sold a building they owned in Hagerstown because of problems with Section 8 tenants.

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Citing confidentiality, Nigh declined to identify any of them. And unless they come forward, finding landlords who have had problems with Section 8 tenants is difficult. Even Allan Johnson, president of the Landlords and Property Owners Association of Washington County, could think of only one. Attempts by The Herald-Mail to reach that landlord have been fruitless.

Other landlords said they've had no problems with their Section 8 tenants.

"I'm trying to think of problem tenants; none of them were Section 8," said Michael Stanford, who owns five Hagerstown properties occupied by Section 8 tenants.

He has participated in the program for about six years, he said.

"The tenants that I utilize through Section 8 are not any worse than those who come privately," he said.

"On average, I have done better with Section 8 than otherwise," said Rodney Cline, who has three Section 8 tenants and has rented through the program for 10 or 15 years, by his estimation. "I really don't know that I have had any" bad Section 8 tenants.

"I just got rid of two (tenants) that were terrible, and neither of them were Section 8," he said.

Landlord payments


Right now, 316 landlords are receiving checks through the Hagerstown Housing Authority's Section 8 program, said Executive Director Ted Shankle. In the last fiscal year, the Housing Authority paid landlords $3.1 million in federal rental assistance for Section 8 tenants. None of the money comes from local taxes.

"Overall, I don't have a problem" with Section 8, Cline said - although he did allow that "sometimes I think the inspection they do is a little picky."

"I have passed only one inspection in six years" on the first try, Stanford said, and provided copies of his inspection reports to show how thorough the inspections are. Minor items such as a torn screen or a loose handrail can keep a building from passing inspection, he said.

"Usually it's something I can fix in an hour," he said. "There's nothing substandard in their inspections."

Nigh said she's also heard "a lot of positives" about the program, and that she doesn't know what the Section 8 guidelines are. But she still believes "there are people who don't belong there."

While Shankle said no assistance has been given to anyone who was not already a Washington County resident, Nigh said she still believes people are coming to Hagerstown from the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area to take advantage of the Housing Authority's programs.

"We don't mind taking care of our own. But from what I have been told, one night's lodging in Hagerstown makes you a resident," she said.

She declined to say who told her that.

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