U.S. limits housing subsidy

Kevin McCahill

Starting Jan. 30, single students younger than 24 with no children no longer are eligible for Section 8 subsidized housing, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The change in federal law grew from an initiative by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who tried to close a loophole that allowed some University of Iowa athletes to live in subsidized housing instead of people with greater need.

Section 8 qualifications are determined by income levels, family size and geography.

According to University Student Legal Service staff attorney Bill Dane, some Section 8 restrictions have been in place since last year. Dane said he has worked with students on subsidized-housing issues.

“Last year I was working with people (regarding Section 8 housing),” he said. “But the law buttoned up so tight, there is no way a student is able to become eligible.”

Dane said there aren’t many University students living in Section 8 housing, although each semester he meets with a few students about the topic.

Riverside Plaza on the West Bank is the most well-known Section 8 housing facility near campus, though it isn’t a popular residence for students, Dane said.

Dorinda Wider, housing attorney for the Minneapolis Legal Aid Society, said Monday marks the first day the new laws go into effect after being approved by Congress on Dec. 30.

Section 8 is a government subsidy that decreases rental costs by offering lesser rates to those who qualify, Wider said.

In paying for housing, if a person is eligible to receive financial assistance from the University in excess of tuition costs, that money is considered income and used to factor into how much the resident pays, Wider said.

Rent is determined by a sliding scale of 30 percent of a person’s adjusted income.

“The birth of this (new change in) law is to focus on students who had high incomes and didn’t need subsidized housing as much as they wanted subsidized housing,” Wider said. “It is focusing on people who needed it the most.”

Some of those in need are part of a group called No Place Like Home Communities, a Minneapolis organization trying to find living space for disabled adults.

John Hetterick is the executive director of the organization and said only 10 percent of adults with disabilities own homes, often because of lack of income. Hetterick said that because of this, those with disabilities deserve subsidized housing.

“Because of their more difficult situation, I would be more supportive of people with disabilities (getting subsidized housing),” he said.

Hetterick, who has been working on Section 8 projects since 2001, said the ruling against students is just the Bush administration tightening its belt.

“At the moment, this administration believes in undermining and reducing programs that help people that are disadvantaged,” he said.

Hetterick said the Section 8 housing market already is crowded with applicants.

“Difficulty in housing isn’t going away; in fact, it is going to get worse,” he said.

Although not many students use Section 8, some didn’t think the ruling is fair.

“There are so many (students) trying to make it out on their own,” said chemical engineering junior Karl Greden. “There are probably others who need it more, but we are starting out, too.”