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Mark Hayward's City Matters: Subsidized tenants feeling pinch of tight housing market

By MARK HAYWARD
February 16. 2018 9:45PM
Ricky Kernozicky looks over letters from his landlord at his Manchester apartment last week. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)
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It’s tough to lose your home.

That happened to a lot of people during the Great Recession, not so much now.

But last November, Ricky Kernozicky, 60, feared that would happen to him.

His home isn’t much: a one-bedroom apartment where he has lived for 14 years, subsidized under the Section 8 program for most of that time.

He kept up on his rent (under the federal program, he was responsible for just $198). And he comes across as a quiet, loner type who wouldn’t cause many problems for his neighbors.

But Section 8 tenants such as Kernozicky are feeling the pinch of the tight housing market.

In the last month, five Section 8 tenants moved out of the 126-unit Southside Manor apartment complex where Kernozicky lives, according to Manchester housing officials.

“What’s being done is not unusual. It’s not something we like to see, but it’s also not something we can control,” said Dick Webster, the acting director of the Manchester Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

In effect, landlords who were happy to sign up with Section 8 when they couldn’t fill their apartments are not so enamored with government-guaranteed rent when they have a long waiting list of fat-paycheck millennials.

But despite some dire letters late last year, Kernozicky will remain.

Two weeks ago, I spoke to him and then called Arthur Sullivan of Brady-Sullivan Properties.

Sullivan said he’d look into it, then called back and promised to extend Kernozicky’s lease another year. He even said he’d visit Kernozicky personally.

“We’re not going to throw anybody out into the street. It’s not that important to us,” Sullivan said.

Brady Sullivan purchased Southside Manor in 2012. Sullivan said the complex, which is across Weston Road from Memorial High School, was built in the 1970s, and the apartments need major interior renovations.

Tenants have to move out for that to happen, he said.

While he pledged that Kernozicky could stay, he was less committal about the future of Section 8 at Southside Manor.

Ricky Kernozicky is struggling with rising rent on a fixed income in the Manchester apartment where he’s lived for 14 years on a Section 8 housing subsidy. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

He said:

• The company will help Southside Manor residents find housing if their lease isn’t renewed, and Brady Sullivan keeps a list of available apartments, both its own apartments and others in the city. 

• Stewart Property, which manages a lot of affordable housing in the city, has a business model more attune to Section 8.

• He is sure all the Section 8 tenants at Southside aren’t getting kicked out. For one, his aunt lives there on Section 8.

Kernozicky said he sees what’s happening. When he moved in, about a third of the residents were older people, many on Section 8, he said.

Now millennials are moving into the renovated apartments and paying higher rents.

“The reality is, that’s why he bought the place,” said Webster, who adds that there is nothing the housing authority can do when a landlord opts out of Section 8.

Kernozicky’s rent was $700 when Brady Sullivan bought the place. It was $835 last year. Now it’s gone up to $1,000. He said that means he has to pay another $111 a month.

He said it will be tight. If he can hold on for another three years, his car payment goes away, he said.

Kernozicky said he’s worked as a warehouse manager and statistician for a nonprofit. But problems with degenerative arthritis, nerve damage and mental illness have kept him from working. His only income is a $1,249 disability check, he said.

He said he had to move the contents of a five-bedroom home into his apartment after his mother died.

“I know there’s a lot of stuff, but it’s controlled clutter. I’m not walking on empty pizza boxes, and it’s not up to the ceiling.”

This is not just about Brady Sullivan, Southside Manor or Richard Kernozicky.

Manchester Housing controls 1,813 Section 8 vouchers. That’s more than the 1,422 public housing units it owns.

So Section 8 landlords have a big impact on housing for the low income elderly, families, and the disabled. 

Webster said his organization can’t force landlords to sign up for Section 8 for extended periods. About all it can do is get an annual lease.

And while Section 8 payments are supposed to follow market rents, by definition that means they always lag behind in a tight market, he said.

“It’s legal, and it’s not outside the guidelines of the program,” Webster said about conversion. “What’s happening across the city is rents are going sky high.”

Mark Hayward’s City Matters appears Saturdays in the New Hampshire Union Leader and UnionLeader.com. He can be reached at mhayward@unionleader.com.


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