New program has Biloxi Housing Authority operating like a private business

New program has Biloxi Housing Authority operating like a private business

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi Housing Authority officials say as far as they're concerned, the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) is a success. With RAD comes flexibility, which they believe translates to better service for tenants.

With so many properties to maintain, having to wonder how much funding they would receive from HUD each year was stressful for Biloxi Housing Authority officials

"Makes it more difficult for us to be able to budget and plan for the upcoming year when we don't know what we're going to to be receiving," said Director Bobby Hensley.

With the RAD program, HUD guaranteed Biloxi a set amount of money plus inflation for the next two decades. In the past, low income properties were jointly owned by HUD and the Biloxi Housing Authority.

Now, the housing authority is the sole owner which officials say gives them the flexibility to mortgage, buy and sell.

"If we have property in a flood zone we could close that property, sell it, buy new property in an area with better insurance rates," Hensley said.

The housing authority would also be able to make upgrades without needing HUD's permission.

"In the past we would be allotted so much money for capital improvements from the federal government, but we would have to get approval from Washington so that we could do what we needed to do. Very time consuming." said Hensley. "Now if we need to make an improvement, we can go in and revise our budgets and do it ourselves without having to go through that Washington approval process."

Officials say RAD operates with a voucher system similar to Section 8.

"Under the RAD program we have converted all our units to what we call project-based vouchers. The voucher doesn't stay with the tenant. The voucher stays with the apartment," said Hensley. "So to receive the assistance you have to live in that apartment.  And when you leave that apartment, then you lose your assistance." 
Hensley says the Biloxi Housing Authority is now operating as would a private business.

"So all our tenants had to sign new leases away from the standard HUD lease and more like a lease they would have with a private landlord. It's going to make life better for our residents because it's kind of breaking the mold of living in public housing. Now you're living in housing provided by a private landlord."

The change doesn't mean the Biloxi Housing Authority doesn't still have to answer to HUD. HUD will still inspect properties and require the Biloxi Housing Authority to maintain a certain number of low income housing units. Hensley says there are 60,000 housing units across the country that are under the RAD program, and approximately 1,000 are in Biloxi.

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