Affordable Housing

Section 8 vouchers bring drug problems hard to get rid of

One landlord – we won’t identify him or where he lives to avoid retaliation – is fed up with 15 years of drug activity and misbehavior by some tenants on section 8 vouchers living in his neighborhood. The city housing authority that gives out the vouchers won’t cut them off. The police won’t arrest the druggies. And the landlords won’t evict them. The problems never end.

What are the problems? Blatant use of drugs in backyards and on porches. Cars arriving and people entering and leaving constantly, a clear sign of drug dealing. Trash thrown out of windows; trash all over the place instead of in barrels. Lots of noise. Loud parties, blaring stereos, yelling, fights, even “real loud f------g.” Some section 8 tenants have moved out, this owner said, because they can’t stand the other section 8 tenants. (Obviously, not all section 8 tenants are bad; a few rotten apples spoil the barrel.)

The latest fiasco in this densely built neighborhood has been two fires within a short space of time in two buildings near each other with section 8 tenants in them. One fire was linked to drug activity, and neighbors believe the other fire was also drug-related.

The owner we spoke with wants more arrests, more section 8 certificates cut off, but it doesn’t happen. Out of 2700 vouchers in the city, only three have been revoked. That’s a 0.1% rate when the statewide eviction rate for all rental properties is 3.7%.

The city housing authority palms the problem off on local landlords. “We can’t evict them,” said one voucher official, “it’s the landlord’s job to evict.”

Our landlord disagreed: “They control the money flow. They created the monster. And now they are letting everyone else deal with the mess. They are protecting their tenants which is their money flow.” If they issue the vouchers, he said, they can cut them off.

When he sees drug activity, our owner has called the police and the drug tip hotline on numerous occasions, giving them license plate numbers and descriptions. “They don’t act,” he says. “Come down here and do real drug enforcement. Don’t just sit in a car for one night.” Often by the time police arrive, the open activity has already ended.

Meanwhile, the landlords who take in section 8 tenants have little incentive to evict. They will lose income in the process. And the outcome is uncertain, as they need proof of criminal activity to get the eviction. Moreover, they will face a real battle in court, because the housing authority refers the tenants to the local legal services office, who will defend them.

Without a real, enforceable threat of eviction or arrest, however, tenants are tacitly given permission to disregard the rules, misbehave and do drugs. It is a vicious circle, all stemming from the good intention of subsidizing poorer tenants.