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Family Faces Loss of Home Over Signature

L.A. Housing Authority revokes their rent subsidy. An official says those are the rules.

September 16, 2004|Jocelyn Y. Stewart | Times Staff Writer

At the Los Angeles home of William Yancy and his wife, Alaine Wiley, this should be a time of celebration: Their oldest child, Alicia, a sharp 16-year-old, graduated from high school early and has earned a scholarship to Tuskegee University.

But Alicia headed off to college last month knowing her proud parents and four siblings might be headed for homelessness, all because Wiley failed to sign a form.

"I don't have nowhere to go but the streets," said Yancy, a former Marine who is disabled by Raynaud's phenomenon and scleroderma, and is blind in one eye. His family was removed from Section 8, a federal subsidized housing program for the poor, and is being evicted.

The Yancys, like others in Section 8 housing, are extremely poor. Nationwide, Section 8 serves about 2 million people. Under the program, members of a household contribute about 30% of their income to rent; the federal government pays the rest.

The failure of Wiley to sign the form put the family out of compliance with regulations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, said David Clark, acting director of Section 8 for the city's Housing Authority.

Yancy filled out and signed the recertification form, which requests income information. His wife also filled out the form but somehow neglected to sign it.

The family has lived in Section 8-supported housing for 10 years and survives on Yancy's Social Security income. Wiley is a stay-at-home mother, caring for Almaya, 2, Destiny, 6, William, 9, and Victoria, 14.

"They just sent a daughter to college," said Linda Williams of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, who is trying to help the family get reinstated in Section 8. "That speaks volumes for this family. They're trying to move to self-sufficiency. This is the type of family you want to help."

Clark said the Yancy case was "really heart-wrenching for our staff," but "we are a program that uses taxpayers' dollars ... and taxpayers expect we are going to abide by certain rules and regulations when we give that money out."

HUD regulations require officials to terminate the family's participation, Clark said.

"If they had signed the form when they had the window to do it, everything would be fine," Clark said. "It's not an entitlement program. They don't have a right to this just because they're low-income."

But HUD officials say the decision to drop the family rests with the local Housing Authority and is not mandated by HUD.

"HUD rules allow the Housing Authority to take this step, but it does not require them to do this," said Larry Bush, a HUD spokesman. "It is a local decision by local officials."

The authority says it sent Yancy a letter warning him that Wiley needed to sign the document. The couple said they received no such letter and did not know there was a problem with the signature until they had been dropped from the program.

The couple learned they had been terminated from Section 8 when their apartment manager informed them -- and asked that they pay back rent. Yancy requested a hearing to clear up the matter, then learned it was too late.

Williams said it was unclear what was needed and the family should be given an opportunity to correct the matter.

"I've always been responsible," said Yancy, a veteran who worked in shipping and receiving at a defense company before illness forced him to rely on Social Security. "I've always done the thing I'm supposed to do."

Now the family has lost its voucher and is being evicted. Wiley has tried to shield her children from the stress -- especially Alicia, who is adjusting to life in college in Alabama.

"I'm trying to keep her focused, not worried about the situation here," Wiley said. "I pray over the children so they won't have anxiety. They're children."

The city's hard-line approach comes at a time when local housing agencies nationwide are being asked to enforce Section 8 regulations more vigorously.

In a letter last month, HUD Secretary Alphonso Jackson urged housing officials to "increase anti-fraud activities."

"While I'm sure that you are already taking steps to ensure that families are honestly reporting all income, now is the time to redouble your efforts on income matching and verification efforts," Jackson wrote.

Housing advocates say publicly -- and some officials acknowledge privately -- that one aim of tougher enforcement is to save money by reducing the number of people in Section 8. Whatever the motivation, local agencies are more vigorously enforcing long-standing rules.

Starting this month, for example, other families might be affected by another effort to follow regulations to the letter. Los Angeles County housing officials will now verify that working students -- who get a break on the rent -- complete their classes. Those who do not could end up paying more for rent.

In determining Section 8 eligibility, the first $480 of a working student's yearly earnings is included in the family's overall income. The rest is excluded.

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