The Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) is considering revamping its rules, which could allow violent felons to receive Section 8 housing vouchers within 12 months of their release from prison. SHA says it's just trying to make housing available to people most in need, but neighbors are concerned the change could further burden neighborhoods already struggling with crime.
Under SHA's current rules, there is a lengthy waiting period before a person released from jail can apply for a Section 8 housing voucher. Right now, a person convicted of murder must wait 20 years before even applying for a voucher, whereas assault and burglary convictions have a shorter two-year waiting period. SHA has proposed standardizing the waiting period to 12 months, although sex offenders and people with convictions for producing methamphetamines would be barred from receiving housing vouchers.
Community activists in South Seattle—where the majority of Seattle's voucher housing is located—claim SHA provided little notice of the proposed rule change, and are concerned about an influx of chronically homeless and ex-convicts into their neighborhood.
Columbia City resident Ray Akers—who sits on the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council—is outraged over SHA's plan. Akers says SHA and the city are only making problems in South Seattle worse by injecting a larger population of low-income residents. "When did it become okay to dump on one community?" he asks. "If this is such a great idea, then let's just take it and try it out in Queen Anne or Magnolia first!"
Akers is a bit hyperbolic when talking about SHA's proposal, relating the possible introduction of chronically homeless and convicted felons to the New Year's Eve murder of Shannon Harps—who was allegedly killed by a 48-year-old man receiving state treatment for mental illness. "You've [already] got good programs up and running taking care of all of these populations," Akers says. "Why experiment with people with criminal histories who weren't allowed?"
According to the director of the SHA Housing and Rental Assistance Program, Lisa Cipollone-Wolters, SHA's new policy is designed to better help implement proposals from King County's Committee to End Homelessness. "We've been hearing from housing providers of the need to have greater access to our housing," she says. "Right now, it's a 20-year waiting period if someone's 18 when [he or she] is convicted [of homicide]," she says. "When they're released after 20 years, they wouldn't be eligible for a voucher until they were 58." Cipollone-Wolters adds that SHA will still retain the right to deny applications for any "habitual patterns" of behavior.
SHA is holding a community meeting on Thursday, March 20, at 6:30 p.m. at the Rainier Cultural Center to discuss the policy change.