Housing authority has evolved: Q&A

Jim Wilkerson, 64, executive director of the Clovis Housing Authority, is retiring after 23 years. He has been working there since he retired from the Air Force. His office is located on the same property as Grand Avenue Homes at 2101 W. Grand Ave.

Q: Have you seen changes in the housing authority, they way it’s done, or even the makeup of your tenants?

A: When (his predecessor, Lorenzo Williams) came aboard, this was an authority moving … (in the wrong direction). Probably, his first and most difficult thing to do was to rehabilitate the reputation of public housing in Clovis. There were times when the police wouldn’t come here by themselves. Under Lorenzo’s leadership, we were able to get a handle on it.
(After the changes), if we had a problem and called the police, they didn’t have to send out two or three cars. One officer could come and handle the situation like they would do in virtually any neighborhood. That is one of the more significant changes that happened. We have definitely achieved and continue to maintain our charge of providing decent, safe and sanitary housing.

Q: Could you explain the housing authority’s mission?

A: We attempt to provide the resources so people of low- or very-low income can have a decent, safe place to live. We do that through two programs.
One is (through) low-income public housing. Here in Clovis we have two developments. (At) the one here on Grand … we have 78 apartments. And then over on Aspen and Pinion (streets), about five blocks from here, there we have 54 … three-bedroom houses for rent. Through the ownership of the 132 rental units, we are the landlord, and we provide that housing.
Then we have a larger program: Housing choice voucher program. In that program we are funded by the United States Department of Housing and Urban development … to provide rental assistance to a little over 600 families.

Q: Could you explain the difference in the two programs?

A: There is a difference in the criteria between the two.
In public housing, there is no such thing as making too much to not be able to remain in public housing. Because your rent is based in part on your income, conceivably you could end up with an income that could make the rent not comparable to what you could pay someplace else.
(In the) housing choice voucher program, as your income goes up, your portion of the rent goes up. And it can get to a point where your portion is the total amount of the rent. At that time you have six months you can remain on the program, but we would not be paying part of the rent. In housing choice voucher, the income limit is lower (and) is restricted to very low income.

Q: How much do tenants pay for housing at Grand Avenue?

A: The average is approximately between $175 and $190 per month. The range is from $50 to a little bit over $400. It depends on the size of the unit, size of the family and the family’s income.

Q: Who decides who gets in?

A: The screening is done by the respective program manger, and he or she is charged with making the initial decision, in terms of the eligibility. Should a person be determined to not be eligible, there is an appeal process that they have, that would elevate it up to the deputy executive director. In terms of screening for suitability, they have a similar process, but most of the decision making is with the program manger.

Q: Who qualifies for low-income housing?

A: Basically there are two eligibility criteria, one is the amount of income, and the other is the family as defined by HUD. But there is a suitability criteria. Much like in the private sector, we are responsible for screening those eligible people who apply and make sure they will meet the criteria of being a good tenant; that they are financially responsible. The other is that they be socially responsible, and that is basically being a good neighbor. So someone who has a history of being disruptive in the neighborhood, we don’t have to take them.

Q: Are the tenants monitored to ensure they continue to be suitable in this way?

A: There are periodic reviews. A tenant is expected to maintain property, pay their portion of their rent on time, and so forth.

Q: What words of advice would you have for your successor?
A: The thing that we can’t forget is, really, we are in the people business, a very important part of the people business. So we deal with life in one of its most basic forms. And the management and the staff can’t ever forget that.
Because we are dealing with something that can determine life or death for people, it’s very easy for us to get into one of those bleeding-heart postures. That’s the way in which public housing in many places has gotten off track, where it became the housing of last resort.

— Compiled by CNJ Staff Writer David Irvin