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Southwest Ohio City Is Trying To Push Out Its Poor Citizens

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A southwest Ohio city has been trying for several years to push out poor residents, threatening tenants with losing assistance if they have delinquent water bills and discussing putting some landlords of low-income housing through extra bureaucracy in hopes they’ll leave, according to an investigation by The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Officials in Middletown, about halfway between Cincinnati and Dayton, say the city has 13 percent of Butler County’s population but 56 percent of its Section 8 housing vouchers, which are federal subsidies used to help low-income families afford housing in the private market.

City officials say the result is Section 8 clusters in Middletown that have created pockets of poverty, hindering revitalization efforts. City documents say the clusters didn’t contribute tax money to the city but instead drained its police and fire services budgets because of increased calls for service.

Hundreds of pages of documents and court records obtained by The Enquirer provide what the newspaper says is a glimpse of a plan by the city to get rid of some of its Section 8 tenants.

The documents show that city officials talked about putting “problematic” Section 8 landlords through special audits and background checks to weed them out of the program and reduce the amount of low-income housing available in Middletown.

“If we remove those owners from the program, we will reduce the number of available Section 8 rental properties within the city,” community revitalization Director Doug Adkins, who was recently tapped to become city manager, wrote in a 2012 Section 8 housing analysis for city council.

In 2010, Adkins discussed the same issue in an earlier analysis, saying: “The beauty of the changes proposed … is that we do not require HUD approval.” HUD stands for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The federal department is conducting a civil rights review into the Middletown Public Housing Agency, and two Section 8 landlords have accused city officials of using questionable tactics to push out poor people.

City officials deny wrongdoing.

“This isn’t some effort to drive people with less money out of the city of Middletown,” law director Les Landen said. “There isn’t any targeting here.”

Landen said that the city does want to get rid of 1,000 of its more than 1,600 Section 8 vouchers.

“The HUD policy has always been to avoid concentrations of poverty, and right now Middletown has a voucher program that has more vouchers than the rest of Butler County combined,” Landen said. “If you are talking about trying to limit concentrations of poverty so they don’t get into pockets, having two-thirds of the vouchers in the county in one place seems to be a bit out of whack.”

Butler and Warren counties’ housing agencies have expressed interest in absorbing Middletown’s vouchers.