February 16

Augusta Housing Authority leader wants to help renters

Amanda Bartlett, who took the job in December, wants the local housing authority to expand its role by potentially getting into developing, rehabilitating, building and owning housing units.

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The new leader of the Augusta Housing Authority wants the organization to take a more aggressive role in addressing what she describes as the near-crisis level lack of affordable, safe housing in the city.

click image to enlarge

YOUNG PRO: Amanda Bartlett, the new director of the Augusta Housing Authority and winner of the Chamber of Commerce’s Young Professional Award, at her Augusta office.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy

Augusta housing data

• Average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment with utilities: $744.

• Percentage of renter households unable to afford average two-bedroom rent: 60 percent.

• Income needed to afford average two-bedroom rent: $29,763 annually, or $14.31, hourly.

• Renter household median income: $23,878.

• Rent affordable to a renter with the median income of $23,878: $597.

• Number of people on Augusta Housing Authority’s waiting list for federally-funded Section 8 housing assistance vouchers: 675.

• Number of households receiving Section 8 vouchers from Augusta Housing Authority in 2013: 580.

• Total subsidy paid by Augusta Housing Authority in 2013: $2.6 million.

• Jurisdiction of Augusta Housing Authority: Augusta and all towns within 10 miles.

• About 85 percent of Augusta Housing Authority clients live in the city of Augusta.

Source: MaineHousing, 2012 Housing Facts for Augusta Micropolitan Housing Market and Augusta Housing Authority.

Housing forum in Augusta

AUGUSTA — A public forum to discuss housing in Augusta, put on jointly by the city and Augusta Housing Authority, will focus on housing needs in Augusta and how the housing authority could play a larger role helping to provide housing to low income residents.

Tuesday, March 4

5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Augusta City Center

Over the last year, 65 housing units were lost in Augusta, some to fires, but most were shut down by the city for safety code violations found in some of the aging rental housing stock.

That has tightened up the availability of rental housing in Augusta.

“We’re at a near-crisis situation in this community right now,” said Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority. “With me coming on board, it seems like a good time to look at expanding our role, so we’re not just doing vouchers. This is an opportunity for us to address a need in the community. I think the time is right to do something.”

Bartlett, who took the job in December, wants the local housing authority, which currently primarily focuses on administering the Section 8 voucher program in the area, to expand its role by potentially getting into developing, rehabilitating, building and owning housing units.

The Augusta Housing Authority is a quasi-governmental agency that administers the federal Section 8 voucher program, which provides most of its funding. Members of its board are appointed by the mayor and city councilors, and its staff are technically city employees. But their actions are independent of the city, as required by state law, according to City Manager William Bridgeo.

According to MaineHousing statistics, the average monthly rent for a two bedroom apartment in Augusta, with utilities included, is $744. It would take an annual income of $29,763 to afford that rent, according to MaineHousing, a statewide housing finance agency.

But the median household income in Augusta is only $23,878 which, according to MaineHousing, would only make that household able to afford rent of $595 a month.

Nearly 60 percent of Augusta renter households are thus unable to afford the average two-bedroom apartment rent of $744.

There is a waiting list of 675 people seeking Section 8 housing vouchers from the Augusta Housing Authority. But as hundreds of people waited for a voucher, last year 11 families gave up their vouchers because they couldn’t find a rental unit in Augusta, according to Bartlett. Some families who held the much-coveted federal Section 8 rental assistance vouchers for housing in Augusta gave them up because they couldn’t find any apartments that met federal requirements, most of which set minimum safety standards, Bartlett said.

Bartlett said when a resident receiving Section 8 housing assistance loses their housing and needs to find a new unit, it takes them an average of three and a half months to find a new unit in Augusta.

So Bartlett wants to engage the community of Augusta to try to find ways the housing authority can help do something about the housing situation.

City officials are on board with her ambitious plans, and the housing authority and city will jointly host a housing forum to discuss how the authority might play a larger role in solving housing issues.

“The City Council is very eager to have a stronger working relationship between the city and housing authority,” Bridgeo said. “And we’re quite enthused about Amanda’s ideas to broaden the authority’s role. Clearly there is a lot of need in Augusta for improved housing stock. We need more safe, clean, affordable housing.”

Bartlett and city officials hope many will attend the forum and provide input, including tenants, landlords, charitable organizations, residents, real estate agents, government officials and any others with an interest. The forum is from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 4 in council chambers at Augusta City Center.

(Continued on page 2)

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