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The Columbus Dispatch
Jonathan Riskind

Disabled OSU Students Won't Lose Their Apartments

Friday, March 24, 2006

Rep. Deborah Pryce is drafting a bill to exempt disabled students from a law that could force them from their homes.

WASHINGTON - Problem solved - or at least it will be soon.

But disabled college students relying on subsidized housing can stop worrying right now about being forced from their living quarters by a new federal law, lawmakers and Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The prospect of losing their Ohio State University-area apartments has caused anxiety in recent weeks among a number of Creative Living residents. Creative Living operates 34 federally subsidized units near the campus, some of which are rented by disabled students.

It also created a stir among federal officials, who apparently weren’t aware of the new law’s effect on disabled students until contacted by Creative Living director Marilyn Frank.

After a story earlier this month in The Dispatch, Bush administration officials and lawmakers pledged to make sure no disabled students lose their campus housing.

Yesterday, they said legislation correcting the problem should be passed soon. No students will lose their apartments in the meantime, the officials and lawmakers said.

The situation is an unintended consequence of legislation aimed at cracking down on subsidized-housing abuse at the University of Iowa involving student-athletes, some with affluent parents, on full scholarships who were living in Section 8 housing meant for low-income people. Legislation authored by Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, required the Department of Housing and Urban Development to count more of a college student’s finances, including parental income, to determine eligibility for federally subsidized housing.

But the rules putting the new law into effect Jan. 30 also count as income independent-living assistance received by the disabled students. Having that funding counted as income would have forced between three and five Creative Living residents who are OSU students to move out and resulted in about a dozen other residents seeing their rents rise significantly.

Although some people, including veterans, were exempted from the new restrictions on student use of Section 8 housing, there was no exemption for disabled students. That would be added under new legislation being drafted by Rep. Deborah Pryce, R-Upper Arlington, the Housing Department and other lawmakers.

Pryce said she is looking for a quick legislative vehicle with which to pass the exemption.

"Sen. Harkin was trying to clean up an abuse but it just went too far, and as an unintended consequence these kids were thrown into the mix," Pryce said. "This is a cleanup measure. I am working with HUD to make sure we do it right."

Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, will aid the effort in the Senate, and Harkin has endorsed the change.

"This is a happy ending for all parties," said Allison Dobson, Harkin’s spokeswoman. "It prevents people from taking advantage of the situation, but it allows people with disabilities to get what they are entitled to."

Housing Department officials said they can’t officially comment on pending legislation. But HUD spokesman Jereon Brown said the department is "fully engaged and focused on correcting this problem as soon as possible. The correction requires congressional action."

Brown confirmed no disabled student will be forced out, adding, "in tightening this loophole, obviously a group that’s entitled has been inadvertently overlooked."

Creative Living’s Frank said she hoped the fix will happen as quickly and easily as promised. "These kids are just panicking," Frank added. "I said, ‘Let’s not jump to conclusions.’ "

jriskind@dispatch.com

 
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