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Hempstead housing program faces questions

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin should outsource the

Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin should outsource the town's Section 8 housing program to a local agency with expertise in order to get residents the vouchers they need. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Town of Hempstead's poor handling of its housing choice voucher program, previously known as Section 8, has left thousands of people waiting for vouchers, even as $1.3 million in unused federal funding sits, untouched, in a town reserve account.

It's an issue that dates to 2014, long before Supervisor Don Clavin took office, but the worrisome problem is now his to solve. 

Since 2014, Hempstead received $19.7 million from Washington to provide housing stipends for those in need. But the town spent just $18.4 million over the same period.

That's not due to lack of demand. Thousands of Long Islanders need affordable housing. At least 500 in Hempstead alone remain on a waiting list for vouchers, with 3,000 from outside the town on a separate list.

Questions abound. Why hasn't the town spent the funds it has? Did the town mismanage or ignore the program? Were there enough resources to address the program's bureaucratic and regulatory complexities? Does fault lie partly with landlords who wouldn't take the vouchers, though they're legally required to do so? What's the best solution now? 

So far, getting answers to those questions has been difficult. The town's program administrator, Rosemary Caracappa, refused to speak with the Newsday editorial board, and Clavin isn't familiar with the details. That's why a federal investigation, as called for by Rep. Kathleen Rice, is necessary. 

Clavin said he'd decide how to handle the Section 8 program within 45 days. Given the town's performance to date, it may be best to outsource the program to a local agency with expertise. The Community Development Corp. of Long Island administers the program for much of Suffolk County, handles about 6,500 housing choice vouchers, and is capable of adding Hempstead. An experienced agency like CDCLI could administer the program properly, and provide Hempstead residents with additional services, too. 

Something went terribly wrong here, and Hempstead residents suffered. Blaming previous administrations isn't the answer; Clavin should focus on improving the situation. Now it's up to him and other town officials to get residents in Hempstead the housing they need.

— The editorial board