The Downtown Incidences and Section 8 Housing: Unpacking the Stigma

Kiera McGee, Contributing Writer

On the night of Aug23, the Buffalo Valley Regional Police Department (BVRPD) and the University’s Public Safety officers responded to an alleged verbal harassment incident that occurred downtown on the intersection of South Sixth Street. For most students, this was their first Sunday night back on campus and the hazy details of what may or may not have happened caused rumors and gossip to begin spreading like wildfire.

As I was walking to my classes and checking social media throughout the next day, it quickly became evident that a majority of the people who were discussing the incident blamed the University for the events of the previous night. In particular, students were outraged that the University had limited downtown housing for this year, allowing what they considered to be less desirable people to take their place. Despite the fact that no official information had been released about the individuals who were involved, I noticed that it was automatically assumed that they were lower class and potentially affiliated with the new Section 8 low-income housing downtown.

On Aug. 27, the U.S. Marshals arrested an attempted murder suspect on South Seventh Street; a mere three days following the fugitive’s capture, the police were notified of two people fighting at the intersection of South Sixth and St. George Street, neither of whom were affiliated with the University. These two occurrences prompted the annoyance of my peers to turn into full-blown fear and outrage regarding the downtown housing situation. I heard students saying that Lewisburg was turning into a “ghetto” and that parents would be horrified to learn about the types of people the University was allowing us to interact with. Once again, the blame for this incident fell upon the Section 8 housing and the stigma regarding the people who utilize such programs.

While I completely understand the necessity for us to feel safe while we are living at the University, I was disappointed with the immediate elitist responses of my peers regarding the Section 8 housing. The BVRPD confirmed that none of the individuals involved with the Aug23 incident were participants of the low-income housing; similarly, the fugitive was from Philadelphia, simply visiting a friend in Lewisburg on the night of his arrest. There were only 15 instances of off-campus crime that occurred this month, just one more than the 14 that occurred in August 2014. Of the fifteen, all of them were alcohol-related except for one disorderly conduct report and one incident of theft, a crime which was committed by a University student. 

The Section 8 housing program, formally titled the Union County Housing Authority (UCHA), provides safe, affordable living situations for families who are struggling to get by. They must pass criminal background checks to even be eligible for a housing voucher. Instead of concentrating the families in one large section of the town, the UCHA works with the private rental market to allow the participants to lead normal lives. The landlord must approve of the tenants before they are entered into a normal lease, with UCHA paying a portion of the rent. The stereotype of one, long dangerous street existing downtown with drug addicts shooting up on the front steps is simply a myth, at least in Lewisburg.

Ultimately, I believe that University students need to be enlightened about low-income housing and the social ignorance that we facilitate by making disrespectful, elitist comments. It is impossible to understand someone’s situation until one has been in his or her place, and so many circumstances could lead to a family participating in a Section 8 program. While my biggest concern is that everyone remains safe and protected, I must also advocate for more compassion, empathy, and kindness from my peers. After living on this campus for two years now, I know without a doubt that we can all offer these qualities in abundance.

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