Communities in West Boca seek to ban government rental assistance 

Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel

By Anne Geggis

Published July 23, 2014

WEST BOCA -- Home prices are up, long-vacant houses have families moving in, but fear of what the future might bring has prompted some of the homeowner associations in the unincorporated area of West Boca to limit who might move in.

Some of the 125 master homeowner associations have either banned or are considering a ban on a certain kind of renter those who pay with the help of Section 8 government housing assistance.

Earlier this year, Boca Winds outlawed Section 8 housing in its community of 800 homes. Boca Falls residents are currently voting on the issue, and a subdivision of the mammoth Logger's Run, Winding Lakes Estates, is considering whether to ask residents to vote on a ban.

Section 8 is shorthand for what is officially known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program, which helps pay the rent of families who fall in a certain income bracket.

For a recipient of this aid to move in, the homeowner must have a dwelling that meets certain standards and agree to take part in the program. But those nearby often dislike Section 8 housing because of its association with poor people.

Few board members will actually say what's fueling the drive to exclude Section 8 housing. So why the push? Boca Winds Board President Paul Pontrelli said he doesn't know of any Section 8 homes in his community, but has heard stories: Some homeowners turn to Section 8 to avoid foreclosure.

And Section 8 housing officials confirm that the housing meltdown that started in 2007 and left many homeowners underwater on their mortgages has made available to Section 8 tenants homes that had not been available to them before.

"Anything is possible in this day and age," Pontrelli said.

His association has homes now listed for sale in the high-$300,000 to mid-$400,000 range.

Communities such as Boca Winds are seeing a threat where there is none, said Judith Aigen, executive director for the Boca Raton Housing Authority, which approves and manages Section 8 aid in the area.

"Section 8 houses are not $400,000-to-$500,000 homes," she said.

Still, she said, "Section 8 tenants are good tenants and should be treated like any other tenant."

About 17,000 people are waiting for the assistance from the Boca Raton Housing Authority. The agency has nowhere near the funding to support that many.

Currently 34 addresses in Boca Raton are listed as being available for Section 8 housing recipients and 16 are in West Boca zip codes. Some are near homes larger than 2,000 square feet.

The maximum rent allowed for a Section 8 rental is strictly limited, so most upscale homes are off-limits to section 8 tenants anyway unless landlords choose to rent them at deep discounts.

Rental rates for a two-bedroom dwelling for a family of three or four can be no more than $1,142 per month and that includes the share that tenants pay. A five-bedroom home would go to a family of 10 and its rent can be no more than $2,005 per month. Recipients usually pay about 30 percent of their income.

Aigen agrees that her agency has handled homes in recent years that would never have been available to Section 8 tenants before 2007, though.

"We've seen some amazing houses and we do have people who get pools," she said. "But if the landlord wants to charge $1,570 for a [three-bedroom] house that passes HUD standards, well, good for the person who found it."

Banning Section 8 recipients is not illegal, but it could lead to allegations of other kinds of discrimination, according to one attorney.

Banning government rental assistance could overlap into claims of discrimination based on race, gender, national origin, disability, or number of children, which is illegal, said Gary Singer, a Sunrise real estate attorney.

"There are a lot of creative lawyers out there who could make a case that it wasn't because of poverty [their client faced discrimination] but because of X, Y and Z," said Singer, who writes a real estate column for the Sun Sentinel.

Section 8 "is not something I would recommend an association outright ban," he said.

But Matan Morag, whose company Regency Realty Services rents, owns and manages homes in West Boca and the surrounding area, said it makes sense to him that a neighborhood's value would be enhanced by keeping out people who need government assistance.

"If I can take care of myself and pay my own rent, I am going to be much more conscious of myself, my belongings and my surroundings," he said.

But Glenn Fradera, a property manager for Sunshine Properties, said a Section 8 tenant can be ideal. He has been renting properties for 20 years in West Boca, including Section 8 homes, and he's never run into a ban on it, he said.

"They [landlords] get paid right away, every month," he said.