SUNDAY EDITION | Families in public housing feeling the pinch of - WDRB 41 Louisville News

SUNDAY EDITION | Families in public housing feeling the pinch of steep rent increases

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The Sissons have lived in this home on Breckinridge Street since 2007. The Sissons have lived in this home on Breckinridge Street since 2007.
Walter and Delores Sisson, along with their son. Walter and Delores Sisson, along with their son.
The Sissons have seen a steep increase in their rent -- from $358 in 2014 to $652 this year. Next year, it will increase to $809. The Sissons have seen a steep increase in their rent -- from $358 in 2014 to $652 this year. Next year, it will increase to $809.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Delores Sisson says the first jump in rent of her subsidized apartment on W. Breckinridge Street happened two years ago – rising from $358 a month in 2014 to $438 a month last year and jumping to $652 a month this year.

Next February, it’s slated to go up to $809 – a $451 dollar increase in three years, despite the fact that her family’s income has not changed.

“I’ve been here for so long, I just can’t…I don’t believe it, the way they do people,” says Sisson, who works as a cafeteria assistant at Cochran Elementary School in Old Louisville, earning $14,000 a year.

Along with her husband, Walter, who is in a wheelchair and is on disability, the couple takes care of their 33-year-old son who is autistic and also on disability. They have paid a flat rent for their three-bedroom apartment from the Louisville Metro Housing Authority since 2007.

For seven years, they say, they paid the same rate of $358 a month.

But the agency has been gradually implementing a new federal regulation calling for rent increases on some residents of 35 percent or more over a three-year period, said Tim Barry, the housing authority’s executive director.

There are 274 households in Louisville like the Sissons – families who pay a flat amount each month, instead of a rate pegged to their income – who are impacted by these increases, all of which should be implemented by this summer, Barry said.

In all, those households represent about eight percent of those served by the public housing program.

“It applies to the people who have chosen to take a flat rent,” he said. “There has been a disparity over the years. HUD has introduced some policies...to raise the flat rate rent, bring it closer to fair market rents.”

Barry added that “you can’t increase people’s rent by certain amount because of the regulations.”

“Plus we wanted to ease the pain a little bit and move into this very gradually so people can just adjust to the new rent increases over time, rather than just dropping it into their lap in one fell swoop,” he said.

Barry said it’s not an effort to push deserving families out of public housing.

“It’s just to encourage them, as they reach a certain income level...to say maybe I can afford something and pay a flat market rent and pay something that is comparable with a flat rent,” he said.

But the Sissons say their income level has not changed – and they don’t know how they will afford the entire increase.

Over 6,000 of Louisville Metro's residents reside in public or subsidized housing – that includes roughly 3,200 families. Forty percent -- 2,400 people – are children under the age of 18.

The vast majority, around 90 percent, of those in public housing are minorities. The average head of household age is 43 years old in family communities and 61 years old in elderly communities.

The average yearly income is $10,267.

Barry said there are about 4,000 people on the waiting list for public housing.

The housing authority manages roughly 4,000 units whose occupants are determined by federal income guidelines. The agency’s properties include large barracks-style complexes, modern  mixed-income developments and apartments scattered throughout Louisville.Ninety-two percent of public housing residents pay an income-based rent, meaning their monthly rent equals 30 percent of their adjusted monthly income.The other 8 percent are like the Sissons.

“Our income has not changed in two and a half years,” Walter Sisson said. “No extra income and we are going to have to come up with $400 extra dollars.”

HOW MUCH? See the 2015 Fair Market Rent and Income Limit rent for Louisville here

Another reason why the rent is going up is because housing is in short supply, Barry said.

He said places like Liberty Green, the new mixed-income community that replaced the Clarksdale housing project on East Market Street, and the Shepherd Square community just south of East Broadway in downtown Louisville are in high demand.

“They are very desirable locations for a lot of people, both for public housing and market rate renters,” Barry said. “And they have waiting lists at both places a mile long.”

The Housing Authority says 3,400 Louisville households are on income-based rent, but for the Sissons, the flat rate and income-based rent are almost the same price.

“I just have to save…take away something, (but) we’ve already cut out everything we can cut out,” Delores Sisson said.

The Sissons say their location is convenient to hospitals and works well for their son, but they say paying $800 a month for an apartment that occasionally floods and isn’t handicapped accessible is too much.

“They need to be more plain with people,” Delores Sisson said. “They say we can just move, well it isn’t that simple, if that was the case, I’d be gone.”

Barry said his agency will follow up with the Sissons over their concerns.

“It’s come down from Washington, they can certainly opt out of flat rent and go into income based – they are not without options,” Barry said. “And if they can rent a market rate apartment, that’s also something they may want to look at.”

Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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