SIKESTON -- With the perspective of 20 years on the job, the director of the Sikeston Housing Authority sees improvements in the city's housing.
Bobby K. Henry's first day on the job as director was Sept. 6, 1988.
"The major issue they had going at that time was all the vacant homes in the Pin Oak Subdivision," Henry recalled. "I promised the board that I would stay at least until we got that situation resolved not knowing it would take us 10 years to do that."
By that time, roots had been put down in the community. Henry's children had graduated from Sikeston Senior High School and were attending college in this area, "and we stayed for another 10 years," Henry said. "The kids have moved on and my wife and I are still here."
Some things have changed significantly over the last couple of decades.
"Twenty years ago computers weren't as in vogue as they are today," Henry said, "so we've computerized the office over the years. It's worked out well -- it makes it easier and quicker to do the things we do like recertify the tenants."
One thing Henry can depend on remaining the same is dealing with changes.
"What we do is fluid: it can change depending on the whims of Congress," he said.
Henry said every five to seven years or so Congress will pass a new Housing Authorization Bill which will make major changes in both the Public Housing and Section 8 programs. Fortunately, he said, there are housing associations that provide his office with information on what to expect from pending legislation.
Funding issues are something Henry has faced on a regular basis as well. "We never know exactly how much we are going to get each year until the fiscal year is almost over," Henry said.
In addition to changes from Congress, there are also those from the bureaucracy of the the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to deal with. "Keeping up with the regulations for Section 8 is a major issue," Henry said. "The regulations are always changing."
The Housing Authority is currently looking at changes in the supply and demand of Section 8 vouchers, according to Henry said.
"The demand for low-income housing is not like it was 20 years ago," he said. "We don't have as many people coming in to apply."
Henry said there used to be about 30 applicants per month whereas today there are probably half of that. He said this may be because of supply-side issues as people know there aren't as many Section 8 homes available as there have been in the past.
"There's not as many rental houses as there once was 20 years ago," Henry said -- and not as many landlords are offering their properties for Section 8.
"I think a lot of that has to do with the mortgage scheme that came through a few years ago," Henry said, as local landlords sold off properties to out-of-town landlords who in turn lost the properties by foreclosures.
The quality of Sikeston's housing stock, however, "is getting better than it was 10 years ago," Henry said, thanks to the efforts of the Land Clearance Redevelopment Authority to get rid of dilapidated homes.
Henry said improvements have also been made to public housing as they have been combining "zero bedroom" efficiency units into one-bedroom units.
"It's been a very good thing," Henry said. "Tenants like the size and they are easier to rent."
Henry said this has already reduced the number of public housing units from 253 to 245 and they are planning to combine another 28 "zero bedroom" units into 14 single-bedroom apartments.
There have also been changes over the last 20 years in those living in Public Housing and Section 8 homes. "They don't tend to stay as long in either program as they used to," he said. "Seventy-one percent in Section 8 have been there less than five years. In Public Housing, 67 percent have been there less than five years."
Henry said it appears as if those participating in these programs are now using them as intended: temporary assistance until they can build their income and stand on their own instead of as a long-term solution. "You better yourself and move on," Henry said.
Another trend Henry said he has noticed is that fewer residents in Public Housing and Section 8 are receiving welfare.
Henry said currently only 16 percent of Section 8 residents receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families as part of their income and only 15 percent of those in Public Housing are receiving TANF funds.
He said the majority of Public Housing residents in Sikeston today are the elderly or have a disabled family member in the household.
"I think we're going in the right direction," Henry said. "Neither Section 8 nor Public Housing was designed for an extended stay. The residents of Sikeston realize that and are trying to better themselves while living with us."