PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) – Officials with the Paragould Housing Authority told Region 8 News Monday it was happy with changes in guidelines approved by the Board of Directors last week. Under new regulations, the Paragould Housing Authority said it would be able to better serve residents who need financial assistance for housing, according to David Lange, Executive Director.
"We presented to them some HUD (Housing and Urban Development) rules and regulations that strengthen the sex offender law," said Lange. "Basically those rules are set up to maintain and ensure safety of our residents and their children in public housing."
Lange said officials will now be able to review sex offender information from the U.S. Justice Department's sex offender registry before making a final decision on housing status. All convicted sex offenders who must register for life are prohibited from living in public housing, Lange said.
"If we find that someone lies on their application, we will terminate them at any given time. If they are truthful about it, then that person will have to be removed from their housing before they could even be considered because we will deny that whole housing opportunity," said Lange. "If anybody in that family has been added to the sex offender list, we'll make sure that we're aware of that."
The Paragould Housing Authority provides financial assistance to more than 650 families who qualify. Families are obligated to pay 30% of their adjusted annual income. Lange said the program helps families that have fallen on hard times get back on their feet.
"We help a lot of people on a monthly basis. Some of those are single parents. Some of those are single mothers or single dads that can't necessarily be on the watch every moment the child is out in the yard," said Lange. "I can understand and appreciate the fact that there are ordinances in most cities that will not allow sex offenders to live near daycare centers and where children are present."
Lange said he believed sex offenders live in clusters because some are not allowed to live in certain areas. Under Arkansas law, it is illegal for a level three or four sex offender to live within 1,000 feet of a daycare or school.
"Location does matter and it probably should be more than 1,000 feet because you've got children, especially in your elementary school programs, where there are kids who live in the neighborhood that may start walking home on their own. One thousand feet is not that far," said Lange.
"I don't believe sex offenders in any form or fashion should be allowed anywhere near playgrounds or near churches," said Rena Taylor, parent of two children.
"I do have two small children and you hear of it so often of very young ones being done just the same as older ones. Any time you have kids, you fear for them," said Taylor. "I'll make sure that she has a cell phone in her pocket and everything else. I've went over things many times with her."
Taylor said she has been living in public housing for three years and has never had a problem with sex offenders.
"It was a cause for concern because there are so many other people that are out here too, you just immediately wonder if you're living next door to one," said Taylor. "There are several buses that stop around here. The kids get on or off them in the morning. There are sometimes parents who do walk their children out just because of concerns."
Taylor said she would like to see stiffer penalties given to convicted sex offenders. She'd also like to see stronger guidelines regulating where offenders can live.
"I'd hate to label anybody as scum, but I wouldn't have any use for them. I have no use for them around me or my children or any of my family for that fact," said Taylor. "Don't mess with me or mine and we've got it made. That's about the best I can say."
Taylor said many of her friends keep an eye out for all children.
"You kind of watch after each others, no matter where. They may be from one side, you know, or something, but it doesn't matter," said Taylor. "It's like a community effort at that time. Everybody watches out for each other's kids."