Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the housing authority doesn’t know where people with housing vouchers live. In fact, the agency does keep records of the addresses where Section 8 vouchers are used, but it doesn’t analyze those addresses looking for patterns.
Despite spending millions to tear down public housing complexes and to implement a voucher program that would end the concentration of poor households, a Housing Authority of New Orleans official admitted Monday that the agency doesn’t analyze voucher use to determine whether new pockets of poverty may be forming elsewhere.
And privacy issues may prevent the release of that data to let others make that determination.
About 14,000 Section 8 vouchers are active in the city, with another 3,000 to go into circulation by the end of the year, according to HANO. Another 22,000 people are on a waiting list.
At a meeting of the City Council’s Housing and Human Needs Committee Monday, committee members asked HANO for information on where vouchers are used. The information is necessary to inform future land-use and housing policy, said council members Jon Johnson, Stacy Head and Kristin Gisleson Palmer. In particular, Johnson said the information is needed in eastern New Orleans, a section of his district where residents have long complained about a perceived glut of low-income housing hurting property values.
“This is not equitable or fair to the people who have returned and rebuilt, or to the low-income people who I believe are in some cases being steered places without being told about opportunities in other parts of the city that may be more advantageous or more central,” Johnson said after the meeting.
Head pointed to Central City, where she says Section 8 vouchers may be concentrating to the detriment of residents who complain about properties that landlords don’t maintain, even though they are receiving the government subsidy, and tenants who “do not conform to” the standards of the neighborhoods.
“The vast majority of people are great neighbors and nobody knows they receive subsidies, but those few people who are not good neighbors do a disservice to the whole program,” Head added.
HANO officials deny that the authority guides Section 8 voucher recipients to any particular part of the city, and that federal privacy laws may prevent the release of data on where vouchers are used.
“Everyone is always concerned with the concentration of poverty, but I’m not sure if we can identify concentrations,” said Keith Pettigrew, deputy general manager for operations at HANO in an interview outside council chambers. “It’s a roundabout way of finding out where people live, and people have a right to keep that private.”
“We hope to provide the information the council wants, but we don’t want to violate people’s rights,” he added.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development did not immediately return e-mails asking if it violates law to release neighborhood-level data on housing subsidy use. Head, however, says that she is willing to bet that is not illegal to release group data if all identifying details are scrubbed.
“It’s something novel,” she deadpanned. “Make public policy in this city using facts.”
HANO General Counsel Laura Tuggle said that the long-troubled housing authority is completing a work plan that will address some of the concerns raised by the council committee, including increasing the agency’s ability to discipline landlords who do not properly maintain Section 8 units.
“I think we can strengthen our procedure if we get repeated complaints for an offender or an address,” she said.