by Lynda Carson
Oakland – The attack on low-income families in the Section 8 voucher program (Housing Choice Voucher Program) in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and across the nation intensified Sept. 27 when the U.S. Senate voted to continue with the catastrophic across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration with their vote for the Reid-Mikulski Amendment No. 1974 to House Joint Resolution 59.
Low-income families in the Section 8 voucher program pay 30 to 40 percent of their income in rent each month, and the rest of the rent is paid to the landlord by the federal program. Presently tens of thousands of low-income Section 8 voucher holders all across the nation are facing massive rent increases, are losing their Section 8 housing vouchers and are facing homelessness as a direct result.
The latest budget battle in Congress over the continuing resolution known as H.J. Res. 59 to temporarily fund the federal government through mid-November or mid-December to avoid a government shut-down, has already resulted in the Democrats caving in to Republican demands to allow another round of sequestration across-the-board budget cuts to take effect on Tuesday, Oct. 1. The massive cuts will also affect various federal programs and agencies all across the nation, including the military.
This means that $85 billion in sequestration budget cuts that took effect on March 1, 2013, are not being rescinded, resulting in around 140,000 low-income households across the nation having lost their federal housing assistance. These low-income families may have faced eviction and are being dumped on to the cold hearted streets of America.
Making matters worse, the next round of sequestration budget cuts beginning in October for FY 2014 may result in tens of thousands more low-income families facing homelessness as a direct result of the latest political deals being made by lawmakers, unless the mean spirited budget cuts are stopped at a future date.
In a newsletter called “Our Voice” (summer-fall edition) warning the residents in Oakland’s public housing about the on-going catastrophic budget cuts, the Oakland Housing Authority (OHA) states that the sequestration cuts that went into effect on March 1 have already resulted in the loss of $2.1 million in funding for its operations during FY 2013. The OHA also expects to lose an additional $9.1 million in funding during FY 2014, when the next round of sequestration budget cuts goes into effect.
The OHA further states that the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program where OHA uses its MTW funding flexibility to assist Section 8 households, and support Police Services, resident programs, administration, and boutique programs such as the Sponsor-based Housing Assistance Program, the sequestration impact is more significant.
This means that because the OHA is a demonstration “Moving-To-Work” (MTW) housing authority, Section 8 voucher holders in Oakland may face an even greater risk because the OHA has been using Section 8 funding to fund its pet projects. This may include Section 8 voucher funds being used for so-called affordable housing projects, police services, resident programs, administration and boutique programs such as the sponsor-based Housing Assistance Program.
Out of around 3,000 public housing authorities across the nation, the OHA is one of only 33 MTW housing authorities that do not have to abide by federal regulations that prohibit the use of public housing or Section 8 funds for any other purpose.
Presently tens of thousands of low-income Section 8 voucher holders all across the nation are facing massive rent increases, are losing their Section 8 housing vouchers and are facing homelessness as a direct result.
In recent months, the Berkeley Housing Authority (BHA) notified 14 households that their Section 8 vouchers have been suspended until further notice. The BHA also served notice on some 200 additional households in the final stages of becoming eligible to receive Section 8 vouchers that their applications have also been suspended.
With $1.7 million in budget cuts hitting the BHA in 2013 plus an additional loss of $386,000 in administrative fees to run its housing programs, the BHA also estimates that an additional 74 households may lose their Section 8 housing vouchers during 2014.
The poor are so desperate in Sacramento that officials at the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency (SHRA) are warning people to beware of a scam that promises a housing voucher in return for depositing money into a Green.Dot account. People do not have to make a deposit to receive a Section 8 voucher from a housing authority.
The Section 8 voucher program in Sacramento was hit with a devastating $9.1 million budget cut as of March 1, 2013, placing 1,700 families at risk of losing their vouchers. An additional cut of $2.6 million to administer Section 8 has resulted in fewer staff and fewer days that the SHRA office is open during 2013. The SHRA also faced a $1.2 million cut to its conventional public housing program, but the residents are not at risk of losing their housing because the residential housing units are owned by the agency.
The so-called affordable housing industry is being protected by HUD
Residents in the Section 8 Project-Based Voucher Program in so-called affordable housing projects in Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco and other cities and counties across the nation are safe for the moment because of secret deals, waivers and exemptions from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by public housing authorities. The Section 8 project-based vouchers belong to the residential units in the so-called affordable housing projects, rather than belonging to the poor who come and go from the housing units.
Public housing authorities are allowed to grab 20 percent of their Section 8 vouchers that were meant to assist the poor and convert them into Section 8 project-based vouchers that are being granted to so-called affordable housing developers to fund their projects.
As a result of the secret deals, waivers and exemptions, the brunt of sequestration cuts to HUD’s housing assistance programs fall directly on to the backs of the poor, elderly and disabled who have moveable Section 8 vouchers, rather than the so-called affordable housing industry that uses Section 8 project-based vouchers to fund their projects. The budget cuts are not being spread fairly as a result. Wealthy so-called affordable housing developers and their projects are protected at the expense of low-income Section 8 voucher holders facing massive rent increases or the loss of their Section 8 housing vouchers.
Those most threatened by the sequestration budget cuts are the people least able to survive without HUD’s housing assistance programs.
In Santa Clara County during August of 2013, Section 8 voucher holders were hit with massive rent increases due to the sequestration budget cuts, raising the rents on some of the low-income households by $990 a month and more. Many of the low-income tenants are now facing homelessness and are losing their vouchers unless they can find cheaper places to move into.
In Los Angeles, Section 8 tenants are taking a beating. There are about 24,000 low-income families in the Section 8 voucher program who are facing rent increases of as much as $200 per month, and they are only half of the tenants in the Section 8 program in that city.
Since March 1, 2013, the sequestration budget cuts have reduced the Marin Housing Authority budget for Section 8 housing assistance payments from $27.8 million to $25.1 million, placing around 2,100 low-income households at risk. Many low-income tenants are now facing massive rent increases and may lose their vouchers as a result.
It was also reported that the Santa Clara Housing Authority faced a budget cut of $21 million, San Francisco Housing Authority lost $9.4 million, Contra Costa County Housing Authority $7.2 million, San Mateo County Housing Authority $3.6 million, and Alameda County Housing Authority $5.8 million.
Those most threatened by the sequestration budget cuts are the people least able to survive without HUD’s housing assistance programs. According to the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), 303,499 seniors rely on Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers for affordable housing. Section 8 also provides homes to 458,124 households with disabled family members. And 59 percent of Section 8 households are families with children – more than 2,357,977 children in total – with an average annual family income of $11,049.
The next round of sequestration budget cuts beginning Oct. 1, 2013, in addition to the budget cuts that have already occurred since March 1, 2013, will cause serious damage to the nation’s federal housing assistance programs. The poor, elderly and disabled have been tossed under the bus by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Watching what the Democrats do rather than listening to what they say reveals that they double-cross the poor over and over again.
Lynda Carson may be reached at email@example.com.