"The truth will set you free. But first it will piss you off."

Gloria Steinem

Friday, February 27, 2015

Crime And Section 8: You CAN Make A Difference

During August and September of last year, I published a series of posts on the Housing Choice Voucher Program, the most infamous component of what is known as “Section 8.”  I focused on the Montgomery County Housing Authority (MCHA), and on the disconnect between Bureaucracy World and the real world.  In one post I and observed that, “The fiercest critics of the MCHA are those who live in the real world, often near its clients.  They view the problems on an individual basis, and at no small risk to themselves.  They know something is wrong, not just because of the numbers around them, but in the behavior of all too many of the program’s beneficiaries, their neighbors.”

I’m pleased to tell you about a few neighbors in Pottstown, Pa. who, after realizing what was wrong, decided to do something about it.  It’s a story of a small victory achieved after much effort.  Pottstown should be pleased that it has such citizens.

On April 15, 2013, Goldencockroach.com posted the first of what would be several articles about a woman named Tracey Accor, a single parent, and it would appear, a serial criminal, with drugs being a recurrent theme.  She had just moved from one house in Pottstown—after trashing it—to another.  She brought her Housing Choice Voucher with her.   She had somehow managed to retain it, despite having been the frequent target of the Pottstown police and the subject of a complaint filed with the Montgomery County Housing Authority by her previous landlord.  The change of address did not alter her habits, but it brought her close to residents who care about their neighborhood, and were willing to step forward and do something about it.

These people saw their neighborhood being damaged by a “family” (of differing numbers) living in squalor and in defiance of pretty much every law and standard of human conduct, including that of proper child care.  They contacted the police, and then they went further.  That’s because they learned that Tracey Accor’s residence next to them was being substantially subsidized by the MCHA.  They began to pursue the matter, at no small risk to themselves.  I say that because they lived near to the residence in question, and had every reason to fear retaliation.  One of these individuals emailed Joel Johnson, Director of the MCHA, on May 30, 2014.  He informed Mr. Johnson of the many violations of the law that were ongoing, and asked for an investigation.  Mr. Johnson replied on August 27.  He apologized for the delay, informed the writer that the investigation was “ongoing and active,” and thanked him for his “new information.”

If the May 30th inquiry was “new information,” then the MCHA was already well aware of the situation by that date.  That made the delayed reply both hopeful and worrisome at the same time.  A matter already underway in May might actually be close to resolution by the end of August, right?  Wrong. 

The writer was not deterred by bureaucratic delay.  He kept sending emails, to keep up the pressure.  Reading them makes depressing reading, particularly when you factor in the passage of time.  The resident faithfully reported a consistent pattern of misconduct that certainly included violations of MCHA regulations.  In one reply, the MCHA, in a late November email, reminded the resident that even if the voucher was revoked, any eviction was solely up to the landlord, not the MCHA.  Not a good sign, but our writer would not give up.

Finally, an email dated December 31 from the MCHA informed the writer that as of January 1, 2015, Tracey Accor would no longer possess a Housing Choice Voucher.  Remember that back in 2013 the landlord at her previous residence had filed a complaint, and that Joel Johnson had termed our writer’s intervention in May of 2014 as “new information.”  Goldencockroach.com estimates that it required 2.5 years for Tracey Accor to lose her voucher, and she would know.  The complaint that I was able to track required seven months, despite periodic stimulation by email.

That is clearly too long.  Unfortunately, I am willing to believe that it is probably the norm for such actions, even the ones that are aggressively pursued by the citizen complainers.  I’m also not going to make it personal and suggest that Joel Johnson or any of his staff were deliberately dogging it.  The wheels of government, as powered by Federal regulations, grind exceedingly slowly.  That’s not a defense, by the way.  I do not approve; I merely understand, and part of what I understand is that venting on Facebook doesn’t speed things up.

And what about the owner of the building during all this time?  Didn’t he know what was going on?  Didn’t he care?  The answer to the last two questions appear to be “yes,” and “no.”  In the interest of full disclosure—and because I hold slumlords in even lower regard than I hold poverty scammers—the landlord’s name is Sam Essam Shedid (the spelling seems to vary).  He bears a responsibility for what happened, but more for the fact that things continued to happen, which he did nothing about.  I want to contrast his (non)reaction to what was happening on his property to the response of the owner of Tracey Accor’s previous residence, who filed a complaint with the MCHA.  His name is Chris Dailey, and if I am going to publish the names of landlords who do wrong or do nothing, then it is only fair that I mention landlords like Mr. Dailey, who try to do right.  So, if you’re looking for a rental property in Pottstown, you know someone to avoid and someone worth a look.

This is the very definition of a “small victory.”  Tracey Accor lost her voucher, which hopefully can now go to someone more honest, and these are two points to the good.  On the other hand, it is unlikely that the loss has spurred Ms. Accor to more responsible behavior, so the problem hasn’t been solved.  In fact, it’s just been relocated.  In a final indignity, it is reported that Ms. Accor has just moved to another address, whose renter is also reputedly a voucher holder.

A great many people would say that the effort wasn’t worth it.  They are wrong.  They are also the ones who would rather rail against the darkness than light a candle, and that is worse than being wrong.  They are also the ones who have helped to render “Section 8” into the myth that it has become.  So I will conclude this post with a tribute to those who are willing to make the effort for a better neighborhood.  Pottstown is the better for those I have been writing about, and I continue to believe that its sister towns on the Schuylkill River that face the same problems possess such residents also.

This subject can’t wait for my current every-two-weeks publication schedule, so next week I’ll take it up again, and talk about that title of “myth” I apply to Section 8, and why that is the real problem.

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