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Housing Choice Vouchers issued to Downtowner Apartments tenants

HUD subsidy expired for units in
nine-story, 240-unit building

SEATTLE — May 17, 2011 — In an intensive four-day period in late April, nearly 200 vouchers were issued to residents of The Downtowner as its HUD subsidy expired.

The Downtowner, a nine-story, 240-unit building at 4th Avenue South and South Main Street, opened as a hotel in 1910 — the year construction began on the nearby Smith Tower. The building was converted from a hotel to low-income apartments in 1971.

This year, the Housing and Urban Development's 40-year subsidy, which paid for the building's upgrading and conversion to apartments, expired, and most of the building's tenants, all of them low- to extremely-low income, were issued Seattle Housing Authority Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers reflecting rent subsidies.

Before the building's tenants were issued their vouchers, Housing Choice Voucher program staff — the community liaison and the housing counselor, housing and certification specialists, a Housing Quality Standards inspectors, supervisors and managers – spent weeks in intensive preparation and data entry.

Every tenant's eligibility for a Housing Choice voucher was verified. Managers of the Downtowner Apartments had already certified every residents' income. Staff made two site visits to assist residents complete their applications. A voucher was then prepared for every tenant who applied to the program.

Housing Choice (Section 8) vouchers were issued to these tenants at two events, the first on April 25 at International Terrace, a Seattle Housing Authority Low Income Public Housing building in the International District. In three shifts, 20 staff from the Housing Choice Voucher program issued vouchers to 175 Downtowner Apartment residents. Interpreters for speakers of Amharic, Korean, Oromo, Tagalog and Tigrinya were on hand.

At each shift, staff made an oral presentation about the program, answered questions and handed out orientation materials. Then, in small groups, tenants signed documents and were issued their vouchers.

On April 29 many of the remaining tenants were similarly provided their vouchers at Porchlight, the Seattle Housing offices in Ballard.
According to Barbara Strayer, Section 8 manager, "The issuance went incredibly well. I don't think we've ever issued that many vouchers in one day — I'm sure we haven't — and I credit the housing choice voucher staff, as well as staff from other Seattle Housing departments, with making this conversion to Housing Choice vouchers so successful."

Seattle Housing routinely issues vouchers to residents of buildings that lose HUD subsidies, but usually the number of vouchers issued tops out at 40 or 50. Staff are already gearing up for a similar large-scale issuance, to tenants of a 182-unit building in North Seattle, as well as for conversions of smaller properties this year and early next.