BEAUMONT, Texas —
More than a year post-Harvey, the storm is still packing a punch.
As people work to rebuild their homes, the demand for public housing is at an all time high.
What happens when the need for housing and Section 8 vouchers outweighs the inventory? We spent months talking to officials, along with people in the program, all while crunching the numbers to get to the bottom of the perils in public housing.
MORE | Beaumont Housing Authority
Gazing from the stoop of his home on the corner of Avenue G, Brandon Johnson takes a trip down memory lane, thinking about how he got his start in real estate.
"When I was younger, I would assist my older cousin, Chris, with remodeling on some of the properties that he would buy," Johnson said.
Now, instead of watching, he's working.
He renovates properties all across the city of Beaumont so that people like Michelle Richard can get a leg up.
“I may have smiled a lot, but on the inside, I was hurting," Richard said.
She says she was hurting because after years of enduring abuse at the hands of her husband, Richard decided to leave. She loaded her car with her belongings, five children and hopes of a better future in Texas.
She was finally approved for a Section 8 voucher, but finding a landlord to accept it would be another task.
"There was a house that I was interested in. I just feel like once the man found out I had five children, he was like, 'it's not available.' It's hard to find somewhere to stay with your voucher," Richard said.
According to the Beaumont Housing Authority there are currently 1,732 families in the voucher program just within the city.
The problem is, there are only about 500 active landlords that are accepting tenants.
Two of the main reasons for the huge shortage are stereotypes and Harvey according to Robert Reyna, former executive director of Beaumont Housing Authority.
"Well, there must be drug addicts, they must be pimping, hooking, trouble makers," Reyna said referring to stereotypes of those seeking public housing.
The public housing waiting list in September of 2017 right before the storm was 2,910.
Post storm---it's 7,936. That is a 172 percent increase in applicants.
The Section 8 waiting list has been closed since 2016 because of funding - but that hasn't stopped more than 5,000 more people from applying.
Same for Port Arthur, where officials say close to 2,400 families are waiting to be housed.
As for those stereotypes, let's verify. Fact versus fiction.
First, is it likely that your Section 8 tenant will be trouble?
“In the eight years I've been a landlord, I've only had one Section 8 tenant that was a problem for me,” Johnson said.
HUD does background checks on every adult living in a Section 8 home before they can enter the program. As a landlord, you have a right to dig even deeper.
Reyna said, "Their credit checks, their previously tenancy checks" are all fair game.
Next, since vouchers are based on fair market value, does a landlord have a better chance getting more cash in hand from renters who pay out of pocket?
That depends. But, landlords have options.
“They can request an increase. It will be granted as long as it is rent reasonable," Reyna said.
Johnson says he did just that on one of his properties and got more cash. Reliable cash.
"Would you want a guaranteed check? Or, do you want to wonder if you're going to get paid?” Johnson asked.
So, you've checked their background and got a fair rate on your property. But, what happens if your tenant is more of a headache than it's worth? A lot of landlords think because of the Section 8 voucher, they're stuck. But, Reyna says you have rights.
“The contract is between the owner and the tenant,” Reyna said. “If I, the tenant, violate my lease, then you can evict me."
With all of those odds stacked against her, Richard managed to prevail.
While using her Section 8 voucher, she took classes on financial literacy and home ownership.
After months of prayer and patience, she and her children now have a place to call their own.
Something she says wouldn't have been possible without a hand from the Section 8 program.
"Give everybody a chance and try to lift people up. Try to help other people, because one day, you may need the help," Richard said.
Not only is Michelle Richard in her own home, she's paying it forward.
She is now working for Beaumont's Housing and Urban Development Department as a coordinator for the elderly and disabled.
12News will release part two of the story tomorrow. The story will look into what leaders at the national and local levels are doing to combat the housing shortage.