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Sequester may have far-reaching impact

Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Across-the-board cuts in federal spending could have a severe impact on housing assistance for low-income families, the director of the Huntington Housing Authority said Thursday.

The cuts, known as sequestration, are scheduled to take effect Friday, March 1, unless Congress takes last-minute action to deal with the crisis.

The Housing Authority was among several local agencies trying to figure out how sequestration could affect their operations and services. Most of those agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Huntington District, the City of Huntington and its Police and Fire departments, the Cabell-Huntington Health Department and Marshall University, did not have clear answers.

Tri-State Airport Director Jerry Brienza already has said that tower operations at the airport could be affected but flights should continue. Brian Maka, a spokesman for the Corps' Huntington District, refused to comment on any specific actions but said employees have been told what to expect. Earlier reports also indicate possible cuts to education, including Head Start, special education and Title I grants.

The West Virginia Association of Housing Agencies, which represents 38 housing agencies statewide, estimates that more than 1,500 low-income families whose annual income is less than $10,000 per year could lose their housing assistance because of sequestration.

Bill Dotson, executive director of the Huntington Housing Authority, said cuts would be felt in public housing and the Section 8 housing voucher program, which provides rental subsidies to low-income families. The Housing Authority oversees 908 public housing units and administers about 1,500 Section 8 vouchers in Cabell County.

Sequestration would result in a 24 percent cut in the Housing Authority's appropriation for public housing from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for this fiscal year. Dotson said. The agency currently receives $3 million from HUD.

Dotson said the budget reduction in public housing would cause the turnover time for public housing units to increase from an average of about 15 days now to more than 45 days.

"We just won't have the manpower or the resources to fix up the units quickly so someone new can come in," Dotson said.

About 1,700 families are on the Housing Authority's waiting list for public housing, Dotson said. Another 1,800 are on the Section 8 voucher waiting list, which has been closed for the past two years because of repeated funding cuts in the voucher program, Dotson said.

Sequestration would force the Housing Authority to eliminate about 200 section 8 vouchers through attrition, Dotson said. At the rate tenants leave the subsidy program, that means the agency could go as long as a year without giving vouchers to new tenants, he said. The only bright spot in the forecasted cuts is that it appears vouchers specifically for veterans would not be affected, he said.

The Housing Authority also would be required to administer the Section 8 program at only 66 percent of the funding level it is supposed to receive from HUD, Dotson said. The Housing Authority was budgeted to receive $661,000 this fiscal year to pay staff, inspect rental properties and certify tenants for the program.

"So far, I'm not anticipating having to eliminate any positions, because we have set back some funding for a rainy day," he said. "But it won't last that long."

Follow H-D reporter Bryan Chambers on Facebook or Twitter @BryanChambersHD.



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