Regional Report: Family May Lose Housing Voucher After Police Altercation

Jul 19, 2013

A complicated altercation between police and a family in the Old North End neighborhood of Burlington included an alleged attack on a police officer. The incident may also reveal tougher scrutiny from Burlington’s housing authority.

A woman involved in the July 1st incident is being evicted from her apartment. She may also lose her affordable housing voucher.

Burlington Free Press reporter Matt Ryan explains the incident that put all of this in motion for Friday’s Regional Report.

Police say an officer arrived at Susalyn Kirkland's North End residence after a report that her sons were shooting a BB gun in the direction of neighbors.  According to police, the two teenage boys were the aggressors in a physical altercation with police, throwing away an officer’s radio and biting and punching him. Kirkland, who was outside for the end of the altercation, says her sons were defending themselves.

A two-minute video taken by a friend of the family spans the final two minutes of the incident. Ryan has seen the video, and says the recording begins with the 15-year-old suspect on the ground, with an officer spraying him with pepper spray.

“The problem with the video is it doesn’t give you a sense of what preceded it,” Ryan says. “Police are saying there was at least six minutes of confrontation that wasn’t captured by the video.”

As a result of the fight, Kirkland may be losing her Section 8 voucher for subsidized housing. Bill Bissonette is Kirkland’s landlord. He told the Burlington Free Press that despite evicting Kirkland, he didn’t want to get the Burlington Housing Authority involved. News of the incident still reached the agency.

Ryan says the Burlington Housing Authority is looking into Kirkland's case, but a final decision has not been made regarding her voucher. A representative from the agency told Ryan there is now compliance officer on duty full-time checking on crime involving voucher recipients.

“Now they have somebody who every day goes down to the courthouse,” says Ryan.

He says the compliance officer also drives out to residences to check for red flags like out-of-state license plates.

“Just to get an idea of who’s living in the place, who’s getting into trouble, and what’s happening there,” says Ryan.

Ryan says that the increased scrutiny may be due to budget cuts to the Section 8 program. Earlier this year, the sequestration hit the Section 8 program in Vermont, limiting the number of vouchers the agency is able to provide. In Chittenden County, the number of vouchers is being reduced from 1,600 to 1,470.

“They’ve become more discriminate, you could say, in terms of finding places for people and who they’re going to give out Section 8 vouchers to,” says Ryan.