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For several years now, reporters across the Missouri News Network have looked closely at the issue of homelessness in Columbia – and beyond. Reporters and photographers talked with those who are unhoused, those who are finding ways to help homeless people, and leaders and policymakers working on funding and policy changes to bring change to the homeless community. Here is a collection of those stories.

Fulton makes changes in subsidized housing program

A sign indicates the Central Missouri Community Action Administrative Offices on Feb. 17, 2024 in Columbia, Mo. Although the office is located in Columbia, the CMCA does not serve any communities in Boone County.
Hannah Jane Schuh
Missouri News Network
A sign indicates the Central Missouri Community Action Administrative Offices on Feb. 17, 2024 in Columbia, Mo. Although the office is located in Columbia, the CMCA does not serve any communities in Boone County.

A shift in how federally subsidized housing is managed in Fulton holds the promise of more affordable housing. But it also means some Fulton residents who have been waiting for housing subsidies have lost their place in line.

Beginning this year, the Fulton Housing Authority turned over management of the federal Housing Choice Voucher Program within Fulton to Central Missouri Community Action, a contractor for the Mid-Missouri Public Housing Agency.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, is a federal initiative that provides landlords with subsidies if they rent to low-income households. Tenants are then expected to pay the difference between the rent charged by the landlord and the amount subsidized by the program.

On Dec. 6, the federal department of Housing and Urban Development approved Central Missouri Community Action’s ownership of the voucher program in Fulton. The change took effect Jan. 1.

Before gaining ownership of Fulton’s voucher program, Central Missouri Community Action oversaw similar programs in the rest of Callaway County and five other mid-Missouri counties.

While officials involved in the transfer hope it will ultimately improve access to affordable housing for Fulton residents, Colita Harvey, housing services program manager of Central Missouri Community Action, acknowledged that the change may be a “big shocker” to those previously on the old voucher waitlist.

Harvey said applicants on the housing authority’s waitlist were not automatically added to the new waitlist during the transition and must reapply.

The Fulton Housing Authority notified landlords and residents participating in the program — as well as those on its waitlist — of the changes in December.

Those hoping to receive benefits will be considered in the order that they apply through Central Missouri Community Action. Currently, its waitlist is about a year long.

“It wouldn’t be fair to the people who are already on my waitlist; like how would we mix them in together?” Harvey said. “According to HUD, their waiting list does not roll over to me.”

The housing authority’s board of commissioners explained the rationale for the transition during a board meeting Feb. 15.

“It was an administrative burden to us,” Angie Brown, Fulton Housing Authority executive director, said. “We were understaffed; we were undertrained.”

Alongside issues with staffing, the board also said the transition is an opportunity to provide more resources for Fulton residents.

“Being a small housing authority, our chances of growing the program were very, very slim,” said Harold Siebert, a member of the Fulton Housing Authority Board of Commissioners.

“The (Central Missouri Community Action) had a much larger base to work from, and their chances of providing more usefulness through the voucher program far exceeded our capabilities," he added.

There’s one thing about the change he regrets: “It probably should’ve happened years ago,” Siebert said.

Following the transition, Central Missouri Community Action has the ability to pay landlords in Fulton more than they would have received prior.

“Our agency had applied for a waiver for us to use 120% of the fair market rents, which (was) approved,” Harvey said. “We could pay the landlords a little bit more than what Fulton Housing Authority was doing.”

Despite an increase in subsidies, some landlords dropped out of the voucher program following a new round of inspections by Central Missouri Community Action.

“We have high standards,” said Darin Preis, the executive director of Central Missouri Community Action. “So we want to make sure that the properties that we're moving people into are safe and high quality.”

Callaway Cares CEO April Redman has noticed an increase in tenants being evicted after the change in voucher program administration. Callaway Cares is a nonprofit organization that provides assistance to homeless individuals and people fighting eviction.

“We have seen an influx of people coming in now being evicted from housing for multiple reasons,” Redman said. “We have a little bit of funding to help us (with) legal expenses if somebody's going through eviction. So that's about to be tapped out.”

As of February, Harvey said the people currently receiving vouchers from Central Missouri Community Action got on the waitlist in March 2023.

“We are pulling approximately 20 families from our waiting list every month to meet with them,” Harvey said.

Anyone who has applied to Central Missouri Community Action’s voucher waitlist who is “verifiably homeless” is moved to the top of the waitlist, Harvey said. For those without permanent housing, the wait time for a voucher is no more than two months.

Despite potential drawbacks, Harvey sees the transition as an opportunity for both tenants and landlords to benefit from the agency’s additional resources.

“It's a plus to all of this, even though it's a big change and a big shocker to the community,” Harvey said. “But it's a plus because, again, it opens the doors for families to learn about us as an agency and also other resources within the community that they can take advantage of.”

Finnegan Belleau is a student reporter at KBIA reporting on issues related to elections and local policy in Mid-Missouri.
Harshawn Ratanpal is a senior at the University of Missouri studying journalism and economics. He is the current Print-Audio Convergence Editor, or PACE, for the Missouri News Network focusing on homelessness coverage.
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