Some Fancy Neighborhoods Open Gates to Section 8

Megan O’Matz, Sun Sentinel, September 13, 2012

Here’s an odd side effect of South Florida’s foreclosure crisis: Some immense homes with pools and three-car garages in gated communities are being rented out to unlikely tenants—poor people paying with Section 8 aid.

Among the properties are homes with up to 4,500 square feet of space in private communities with guardhouses and regal names such as “Monarch Lakes” and “Bellagio at Vizcaya.”

Some of the owners are teetering on foreclosure and gambling they can earn enough money from the federal housing vouchers to stave off the banks. Others bought the properties cheap in foreclosure auctions and want the guaranteed rental income.

Housing advocates and the government view the turnabout as a win-win for homeowners and the poor, who have access to safer communities and better schools.

But some neighbors are aghast.

After a single mother and her nine children rented a house in the exclusive Isles neighborhood of Coral Springs, the homeowners association adopted an amendment to its governing documents stating: “No Section 8 or government leasing assistance is permitted.”

The association is threatening eviction.

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The owner of the Coral Springs house, Henri-Claude Marcellus, has hired a lawyer to challenge the restriction, claiming his mostly white neighbors are discriminating against him because he is Haitian and his tenants are African-American.

A retired software engineer, real estate investor and radio show host, Marcellus said he confronted the association’s officers, demanding to know: “What do you have against blacks?”

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The Sun Sentinel examined federal housing subsidy data from housing authorities in Broward and Palm Beach counties and found 230 homes commanding rents of $2,000 or more, up to $3,375 a month, from Section 8 families.

Typically, tenants pay about one-third of their income toward the rent and the government pays the rest.

Most of the homes were basic, modest-looking residences in unassuming neighborhoods. But about a dozen were far grander, upscale houses concentrated in Broward County‘s western suburbs, including Coral Springs, Miramar and Cooper City, where one six-bedroom rental is worth $500,000.

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Landlords then advertise that the property is “Section 8 approved.” Many listings are found on the Internet at http://www.GoSection8.com or at housing authority web sites.

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