Published on the Indy Bay News Wire...
Massive sequestration budget cuts will shred the housing safety net
By Lynda Carson - March 1, 2013
Oakland - In a political game of chicken over the federal budget, Congress and the Obama administration have failed to stop the massive $85 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts known as sequestration scheduled to take effect on March 2. The Republicans and Democrats blame each other over the situation, but the worst losers in the political squabble will be the poor, elderly and disabled throughout the Bay Area, and across the nation.
The massive budget cuts are expected to shred the safety net, and threaten several hundred thousand households in the nation's federal housing assistance programs with the loss of their housing assistance, and Section 8 housing choice vouchers. People across the nation have been fighting back and have been speaking out against the massive budget cuts taking effect, but their voices have fallen on deaf ears.
Locally in Berkeley, Eleanor Walden of the Berkeley Gray Panthers said; "On Feb. 27, at their regular monthly meeting the Gray Panthers distributed postcards addressed to Sen. Diane Feinstein, asking her to stop the massive impending budget cuts scheduled to take effect in March. There were about 40 people at the meeting, many of whom signed and mailed the postcards that very same day," said Walden.
According to the Marin Independent Journal, Lewis Jordan, executive director of the Marin Housing Authority said the budget cuts could have a devastating effect on the housing agency because nearly all of the housing authority's revenue comes from the federal government, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Due to the massive budget cuts taking effect, housing assistance programs being administered by local Public Housing Authority's and other housing agencies all across the nation may now be forced to raise the rents way more than low-income households can possibly afford to pay, or may have to take their Section 8 housing vouchers away from them. In its own assessment of the dire situation, HUD estimates that 250,000 voucher holders will lose their housing if sequestration takes effect, resulting in nearly a million people losing their federal housing assistance and being placed at risk of homelessness.
Low-income tenants in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program pay 30 to 40 percent of their monthly income for rent, and the rest of the rent is paid to the landlord by the program. After many years of cuts that have shred the housing safety net, most people eligible for federal housing assistance never receive the help they need to keep from becoming homeless.
The Oakland Housing Authority administers around 13,259 Section 8 voucher units in Oakland, owns and operates around 3,300 conventional public housing units, and assists about 10 percent of Oakland’s low-income families with their housing needs. San Francisco has 8,611 Section 8 units, Berkeley 1,939, the Housing Authority of Alameda County 6,097, Richmond 1,750, Marin County 2,145, and Contra Costa County Housing Authority 6,763.
The scheduled catastrophic spending cuts threaten the nation’s federal housing programs administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), including $1.53 billion to be cut from HUD’s Section 8 tenant-based rental assistance (Housing Choice Voucher Program), $772 million from Section 8 project-based rental assistance, $325 million from the public housing operating fund, including an additional cut of $154 million from public housing capital funds, $31 million from elderly senior housing, $14 million from housing for people with disabilities, $27 million from housing for people with AIDS, plus $74 million from the USDA’s rural housing program and $156 million from homeless assistance grants.
The spending cuts will also affect local housing programs in Berkeley, San Francisco, Alameda, Richmond, Alameda County, Contra Costa County, throughout California, and all across the nation.
The City of Los Angeles faces a massive $48 million spending cut to their Section 8 housing voucher program. According to the LA Times, in a report submitted to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Jan. 3, City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana stated that an estimated 15,000 families that rely on housing vouchers would on average see their rent expenses increase by $116 per month if Congress fails to block the automatic across-the-board spending cuts scheduled for March 1.
Additionally, the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County seeks HUD approval to terminate rental assistance for 1,800 families if the spending cuts take place or to raise the rents on 21,132 households.
The City of Long Beach may lose around $15 million to operate it's housing assistance programs once the budget cuts take effect, and according to officials at the Housing Authority of the County of San Bernardino they will lose around $5.5 million in budget cuts from their annual budget of $110 million.
In Sacramento, according to the website for the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency, if the spending cuts take effect, they will have to take back around 950 vouchers from households in the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program.
According to other reports across the nation, more than 900 families in Houston are at risk of losing their housing vouchers once the budget cuts take effect, including 250 low-income families in Tucson, Arizona, and an additional 3,500 low-income households in Hawaii recently received notice that they may also be at risk of losing their housing assistance vouchers once the massive budget cuts take effect.
Additionally, “Cuts to the Homeless Assistance Grant account would result in approximately 100,000 more people on the streets if the spending cuts go into effect,” says Rep. Dick Norman, D-Wash.
HUD has been notifying cities and public housing authorities across the nation to prepare for huge spending cuts to their housing assistance programs if sequestration is not stopped by Congress and the Obama administration before March 1.
More than 900 organizations nationwide have spoken out against the massive spending cuts. In a call to action, activists continue to urge low-income families in the federally subsidized housing programs to immediately contact their representatives and to urge the Obama administration and Congress to stop and reverse the automatic spending cuts scheduled to go into effect in March, which could result in the eviction of 250,000 voucher holders in HUD housing programs.
Among those most threatened by the spending cuts are the people least able to survive without HUD housing 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 housing is also home 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.
Lynda Carson may be reached at tenantsrule@...