A Missoula woman is facing felony theft charges for accepting tens of thousands of dollars in vouchers from the Missoula Housing Authority to pay the rent at two apartments while living in a third location with her boyfriend.
Prosecutors with the Missoula County Attorney’s Office allege that Christy Cummings, 35, received Housing Choice Voucher payments under the Section 8 program for two different addresses between August 2012 and July 2014.
Cummings first received rental assistance under the Section 8 program in April 2012 for a residence located at 155 N. California St. She continued to receive assistance for that address through July 2014.
But Cummings also received Section 8 assistance for a residence at 2324 Foothills Drive. She received payments for the address in June and July 2014 while renting the unit to her brother.
The Housing Authority later learned that Cummings hadn't lived in either address for years. She told a judge in 2014 that she began living on Rustic Road with her boyfriend, Joshua Patterson, in July 2012.
Patterson is the landlord for the property at 2324 Foothills Drive.
“It’s disheartening that someone would take advantage of a program that helps so many people,” said Lori Davidson, executive director of the Missoula Housing Authority. “It’s taking assistance that could go to someone who needs it and would use it in an appropriate fashion.”
In all, prosecutors allege that Cummings received 31 checks from the housing authority for the two addresses over two years totaling $20,882. She made her initial appearance in Missoula County Justice Court earlier this month.
In 2013 and 2014, as Cummings received Section 8 assistance while living at another location, the Missoula Housing Authority was facing lean times due to cuts made to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The cuts forced the agency to reduce by 50 the number of Section 8 vouchers available to low-income renters. An estimated 2,000 other people were waiting for a Section 8 voucher to open at the time, and they continue to do so, Davidson said.
“We have to rely on our program participants to be honest with us,” Davidson said. “We’re not an investigative body. In general, our procedures are good, but if people choose to outright lie to us, we don’t have any way to determine that until someone tells us.”
Keithi Worthington, deputy city attorney, said voters approved the Missoula Housing Authority in 1978. It’s governed by a seven-member board of commissioners who are appointed by the mayor, even though it’s not a department of city government.
“There’s a statute that allows the authority to call on the County Attorney’s Office, and that’s one of the ways in which the city provides support to the authority,” Worthington said. “This seems to be a very unique circumstance that was difficult to catch.”
According to court records, Cummings received a three-year deferred sentence for theft and a three-year deferred sentence for forgery back in 2002. She remains on probation for a felony DUI from 2010.
She's set to make her preliminary appearance in Missoula County District Court on the latest charge on April 8.
“We work very hard building a good relationship with our participants so they want to be honest with us,” Davidson said. “When something like this does happen, we’re disappointed, but we’re also glad we were able to discover it and put an end to it.”