KINGSPORT — The Kingsport Housing and Redevelopment Authority recently saw a significant increase in residents not paying rent by the end of a 15-day grace period. Officials blame the uptick in non-payments on the overall state of the economy.
The KHRA oversees 529 family and elderly public housing units in six communities — Riverview Place, Lee Apartments, Cloud Apartments, Dogwood Terrace Apartments, Holly Hills Apartments and Tiffany Court Apartments. The authority routinely has 1,500 to 1,700 residents living in its apartments with a constant waiting list for vacancies. A significant number of residents in the KHRA are seniors, the disabled and (25 percent) single women with children.
In its quarterly newsletter, KHRA Executive Director Terry Cunningham said the authority has had a significant increase in residents not paying rent by the end of the grace period. KHRA rules state public housing rent is due on the first day of the month and is considered late after the 15th of the month.
“It’s not a critical issue, but we saw an increase in the slow pay of rent and thought it was appropriate to remind residents (about the issue),” Cunningham said. “A lot of it is economics. We saw a real downturn in income of a lot of our families where retail and service businesses cut back on their hours. Even though their rent goes down, they still have other things competing for their dollars.”
Cunningham said that in January the percentage of residents not making their rent payments by the end of the grace period was at 27 percent. Since the newsletter came out back in March, that number dropped to 13 percent. Ideally, the KHRA would like to see the percentage at 5 percent, but 10 percent is a reasonable expectation.
“The newsletter seemed to have gotten the desired response,” Cunningham said.
Rent in public housing is 30 percent of a family’s adjusted gross income. There is an annual recertification, and any change in gross income — upward or downward — should be reported to the KHRA within 10 days. Occupancy in the KHRA’s public housing is running at its highest levels with a long waiting list, and Cunningham noted rent is always a difficult issue.
“The housing is targeted to low-income people, and they have lots of things competing for their dollars,” Cunningham said. “(The newsletter reminder) helps to set the expectation and remind people of certain provisions in the lease so that it’s not a surprise if we ever have to go to the enforcement route with an eviction.”
The lease agreement between residents and the KHRA also has a provision for residents who routinely pay late — four times in a 12-month period is grounds for terminating the lease. The grace period is mandated by landlord-tenant laws, and Cunningham said most residents pay by the grace period. However, eviction proceedings are a monthly occurrence at the KHRA.
“It’s a pretty regular monthly activity,” Cunningham said. “We probably have three or four a month, maybe 50 a year where we go to court and get a judgment. Once we get a judgment, they’ll go ahead and vacate the unit.”
If a resident is evicted from the KHRA, Cunningham said their name is included in a national database, and they will be unable to even apply to any other federal housing entity until past debts are paid in full, which includes unpaid rent, utilities or legal fees associated with an eviction proceeding.
“If you pay everything you owe us, then you can reapply for public housing,” Cunningham said.
If residents get behind in their rent, Cunningham said they can talk to KHRA officials about setting up a repayment agreement, which can forestall the authority moving ahead with eviction proceedings.