EXCLUSIVE: AHA Expands Landlord Scrutiny, Responds to Mortgage Crisis

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(APN) ATLANTA — The Atlanta Housing Authority (AHA) has expanded upon its scrutiny of landlords who want to house a family receiving a voucher from AHA, Atlanta Progressive News has learned.

One landlord who recently encountered the changes also told Atlanta Progressive News that the added scrutiny may discourage more landlords from accepting vouchers from AHA.

The move by AHA comes after weeks of exclusive coverage by Atlanta Progressive News of the mortgage crisis which has impacted AHA voucher-holders.

APN chronicled the story of Tamika “Cookie” Brewer, who received a foreclosure notice even though she was paying her rent on time and AHA was sending her landlord a voucher, because the landlord wasn’t paying the mortgage.

Exactly four weeks after requesting information from AHA, APN today received an exclusive series of statements prepared by AHA spokesperson, Rick Write of the Alisias PR firm. This is the first time in five months AHA has responded to a press request from APN.

First, AHA estimates at least 209 voucher-holder families were affected by a foreclosure in the year 2007 alone. Resident President Diane Wright told APN she thinks that number is low.

“While AHA had due diligence practices in place, we certainly did not anticipate a national mortgage foreclosure crisis. As an asset manager of our size, we believe it is our responsibility to refine our due diligence practices,” White wrote.

“These changes include increasing the frequency and scope of our landlord review process, receiving advance information before foreclosures occur, and enhancing the response time when a foreclosure notice has been issued,” White wrote.

APN requested additional information on how AHA would receive such advance information and how it would increase the frequency and scope of the landlord review process, but AHA did not immediately reply.

The reason this was not clear from their statement is because the banks usually have no way of knowing whether there’s a tenant–let alone an AHA voucher holder–in the property, JR Johnson, foreclosure specialist, had previously told APN. The bank usually deals directly with the borrower, that is, the landlord.

However, local real estate investor and blogger, Nancy Spivey, tells APN she was shocked at all the new requirements when she received the new AHA landlord paperwork from a tenant who was applying with a voucher from AHA.

“They [the applicant] gave me the paperwork. Landlords have to fill out a lot of forms. Now they have to verify their corporations, give out an authorization to release information that the mortgage is in good standing, and get a credit check,” Spivey told APN in a phone interview.

“I understand where they’re coming from. It is a bad situation on both sides. But it does feel really invasive when you’re the landlord. There are already a lot of things landlords have to jump through to rent on Section 8,” Spivey said.

“These days, everybody wants to check your credit. It’s not a good thing for everyone to have their credit checked every time they turn around because it dings your score. And it’s a huge office down there and identity theft is a huge issue right now,” Spivey said.

Spivey also wrote about the matter on her blog at RealEstateInvestorsResource.blogspot.com.

Meanwhile, AHA announced they would not be going after landlords suspected of mortgage fraud in court, even though they were receiving a federal subsidy while not paying the mortgage, raising the issue of whether residents are held to higher standards than landlords.

AHA stopped short of promising each family affected by a foreclosure would be guaranteed transition assistance to a new apartment, but said each family would be reviewed for their eligibility.

“AHA has established an assistance initiative to help participants who are victims of the nation’s foreclosure crisis. AHA assigns a professional to each affected family who will determine the type of assistance on a case-by-case basis. Such assistance will include: Application fee, Security deposit (refundable to AHA), Utility reconnection fees (up to three utilities), Moving services, [and] In emergency situations, AHA may provide funds to pay for temporary storage and temporary hotel stay,” White wrote.

“This assistance is being provided voluntarily by AHA in its role as a corporate citizen and should not be misconstrued with assistance under the relocation program,” White wrote.

Brewer eventually received assistance with moving into a new apartment after weeks of continuous coverage by Atlanta Progressive News.

However, within the last week, Brewer contacted APN to report that her new apartment was not in a safe environment. She said her apartment had been broken into, that she believed there were drug dealers in the area, and that the majority of units in the building were boarded up. Brewer said she recently contacted AHA for assistance with moving again.

Brewer was forced to locate this apartment on foot because AHA did not provide relocation search assistance, even though Brewer had a disability and medical condition. Thus, she applied at this apartment complex because it was nearby and she heard they were accepting vouchers.

Brewer’s situation raises also the general issue of what quality of apartments will people be able to find with the vouchers, and how special needs and disabilities can make it even more difficult for some voucher holders to find apartments.

Now, if as some fear, landlords are discouraged by the added scrutiny unveiled by AHA, this difficulty of finding places to live with an AHA voucher may increase.

About the author:

Matthew Cardinale is the News Editor of The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at matthew@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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Our syndicaton policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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