HUD program offers housing hope

LIHU’E — The federally-funded Sec-tion 8 rental-assistance program has proven to be a concrete hedge against a life without hope for Kauaian Realene Pascual-Juarez.

A mother of three, Pascual-Juarez became eligible for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 program voucher in 1994, and lived in two homes at different times owned by the same property owner until 2003.

The voucher means she pays only a portion of the rent, due to her low income, while officials with the federal government cover the rest.

The rental house was sold, and Pascual-Juarez, now 33 and a single mother, failed to find another rental unit due to lack of interest by many property owners in putting their rental units into the Section 8 program pool.

Some such owners claim they won’t rent to voucher-holders because they have damaged their rental homes. It is a claim dismissed by county housing officials, who say most voucher-holders are “good tenants.”

Since 2003, Pascual-Juarez has lived mostly at the homes of friends, periodically, or at the beach with her family.

Pascual-Juarez hopes Sept. 21 will mean dramatic and positive changes in her life.

On that day, Kaua’i County Housing Agency officials re-opened the waiting list for the agency’s Section 8 rental-assistance program.

She was the first one in line, positioning herself outside an office at the Lihu’e Civic Center at 4:30 a.m. that day.

When the doors opened before 8 a.m., she joined 59 other residents vying for the coveted vouchers.

“It (moving into a home with a HUD voucher) means stability, salvation, consistency, and a better way of life for my children (who are 4, 9 and 14),” Pascual-Juarez told The Garden Island.

She joins 210 folks who so far have filed applications for the rental-assistance program managed by leaders in the Offices of Community Assistance Kaua’i County Housing Agency. The program is funded with $5.9 million this year from HUD officials.

County Housing Agency leaders stopped taking voucher applications in February 2004 when the list grew to 900 applicants, and conditions, including a tight rental-housing market, weren’t optimum for placing more voucher-recipients into rental homes.

Pascual-Juarez said not living in her own rental unit has kept her off-balance for the past two years.

With the help of the HUD program, she and her family lived in a home in Wailua until 2003, when it was sold.

She tried to find another home, but “I wasn’t able to find a landlord who would accept HUD,” Pascual-Juarez said.

Her only recourse, she discovered to her dismay, was living outdoors, she said.

Pascual-Juarez said she and her sons camped in a remote area on the Eastside of the island for the next eight months.

She felt that, if anything, her job would be there to sustain them during a difficult time. She worked for a company in South Kaua’i as an office manager, and was involved with accounting.

But she lost the job when her car broke down and she couldn’t get to work. She also didn’t have the funds to repair the vehicle right away.

Camping produced living conditions where “we got sick” frequently, Pascual-Juarez recalled.

Luckily, she said, a friend let them stay at a home for a month, as a break from camping on a beach.

Another break came for her and her family in the later part of November last year, Pascual-Juarez said.

“I rented a room in Wailua for $500 a month,” she said. “The room was for all four of us. It was small, but it was OK. We were together. I was making ends meet by working odd jobs.”

She then moved her family to another North Shore beach.

But she said staying at the beach the past eight months has been “like hell” for her and her family, because she is constantly worrying about losing her personal goods to other campers.

“My son’s bicycle was stolen, and I have containers of dishes. People borrow them and they don’t return them,” she said.

She said she doesn’t let her current situation get her down, and lives life as normally as possible.

She insists that her children get an education, and makes sure they catch the school bus to their respective schools.

“Education is very important to me,” she said. “They don’t miss school unless they are dying.”

When life seemed nearly hopeless, she said she got an immediate lift from Annie Gonsalves and “Uncle” J.R. Rabot, who watched over her children when she went to work or ran errands, and comforted her during unhappy moments in her life.

“They were the only family on this island who helped us,” she said.

Attending the Ohana Christian Fellowship Church, whose leaders conduct services at the Kapa’a Middle School, also lifted her spirits, she added. Pascual-Juarez has no car because she can’t afford one right now. So she has gotten a bus pass to get around the island, and is looking for temporary jobs to sustain herself and family.

In a perfect world, she would like to revisit 1994, when she obtained the HUD voucher and had a roof over her head.

Between 1995 and 2003, she rented two separate homes from the late Dr. Patrick Aiu, a prominent doctor from Kaua’i.

“I did office-management work. I raised my family, and I was married (for three years before divorcing),” she said.

She had to move out in 2003 when the house was sold, and that was when her world seemingly went south.

“At the time, they (county housing officials) closed down the sign up list for HUD (in early 2004), and I lost my voucher (because of difficulty in finding another rental unit),” Pascual-Juarez said.

She is hoping to turn her life around with a new HUD voucher in hand, and move into another rental unit.

The chances of that happening could depend on how receptive prospective landlords are about renting to Section 8 voucher-holders, said Stuart Rosenthal, the Section 8 program manager for the Kaua’i County Housing Agency, and Gary Kodani, assistant Section 8 program manager for the county.

Most of the Section 8 renters are good tenants, and treat the properties they occupy with respect, Rosenthal said.

Unfortunately, a minority number are not that way, creating a perception among some landlords that HUD renters will not necessarily take care of their properties, Rosenthal said.

“A lot of landlords view HUD recipients as bad tenants,” Kodani said.

“Just because they have HUD assistance doesn’t mean that they are bad tenants. In fact, there are many good tenants. I would say that the vast majority of the people are good tenants.”

Pascual-Ramirez said she is one of the good tenants, and the fact that she, as a HUD recipient, rented two places from the late Dr. Aiu for nine years, should show she is a responsible renter.

“They saw me go to work everyday. I kept up the place nice,” she said.

An elderly West Kaua’i resident who wished not to be identified said she was compelled to file for HUD assistance due to spiraling rents. She currently pays a little more than $1,200 a month, and her rent has been boosted to $1,400, effective in October.

The added concern is that the landlord plans to sell the home, she said.

The woman said she was highly impressed by the professionalism and help of County Housing Agency staffers when she filled out a voucher application on Sept. 21.

“They gave us the forms, and told us exactly what to do,” she said. “And it wasn’t just once.”

Rosenthal said the latest batch of residents seeking the rental-assistance vouchers will be reviewed, and those deemed to be qualified will be interviewed.

If the beneficiaries get the vouchers, they have 120 days in which to find a rental unit, Rosenthal said. If they don’t, the vouchers expire, and they can sign up again for the vouchers, Rosenthal said.

Under the HUD program, a family of four whose members wish to rent a three-bedroom home could qualify for a maximum of $1,465 a month in rental assistance, provided no one in the household is bringing home any income, officials said.

The amount of rental assistance would generally depend on comparable rents in the neighborhood where the family wants to rent, and the salaries of household members who are working, Rosenthal said.

A single individual wanting to rent a studio could qualify for a maximum of $715 in monthly rental assistance, he said.

And, again, that amount of subsidy would be based on the person’s salary and comparable rents, Rosenthal said.

Rosenthal and Kodani said the program can help members of many Kaua’i families as long as they sign up, and as long as property owners believe in the rental-assistance program.

Pascual-Juarez said she is earnest about finding housing, and will call up property owners who advertise in newspapers that say they won’t consider HUD recipients as potential tenants.

“I still call them and show them I have been a HUD renter in good standing (from having rented from the late Dr. Aiu for nine years), and have a good track record,” she said.

Pascual-Juarez said she is optimistic about her chances of getting into another rental unit.

“Just because I don’t have a home doesn’t mean that I am homeless,” she said.

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