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Editor’s note: This story is part of our month-long investigative and in-depth series looking at housing issues facing Western North Carolina. For more housing-related reporting from Carolina Public Press, go here.
While more than 10,000 households in WNC rely on some form of public housing assistance, housing authorities don’t usually attract the same level of scrutiny as a local government, for example, so their workings are sometimes not well understood.
For one thing, housing authorities are independent agencies governed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, not the local or even state government. So, for example, while the Housing Authority of the City of Asheville’s name might lead one to think that it’s part of municipal government, it’s not. It simply refers to the geographic area it oversees.
While HUD places certain guidelines on their operations, in practice the authorities are independently-run, with their own boards, managers and somewhat differing rules and guidelines. A housing authority’s day-to-day operations are overseen by a CEO or executive director and the staff they choose. As a federal agency, tenants with issues can have the option of taking the issue to court.
Also, for many housing authorities, local governments do play some role in oversight through board appointments. An authority’s board is often appointed by a local official or combination of local governments (if it covers a wide area). HACA’s five-member board, for example, is appointed by the mayor of Asheville, but this type of relationship varies depending on the rules HUD approves for each authority.
Some housing authorities in WNC only oversee a small town, such as Murphy or Hot Springs. Others, like the Boone-based Northwest Regional Housing Authority, deal with a wide, multi-county area. There are 15 such agencies and nonprofits in WNC.
Who oversees Section 8?
Public housing developments are always overseen by a housing authority. However, the authority will often also oversee Section 8 vouchers as well. For example, both HACA and NWRHA oversee extensive Section 8 programs as well as owning and managing public housing developments. But Section 8 programs are sometimes overseen by local nonprofits instead. For example, in Henderson County, the Hendersonville Housing Authority oversees the area’s public housing while the nonprofit Western Carolina Community Alliance manages Section 8 vouchers in the same county.
While they have board authority over the developments they own and manage, as well as the vouchers they administer, housing authorities are also entirely or largely dependent on funds from HUD, so federal budget issues have an even larger impact than they do on local governments, who have their own tax revenue to turn to. The declining budget situation has, accordingly to multiple housing authority officials, led to major challenges that have left agencies throughout the country — and WNC — scrambling to adapt.