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Housing aid cutbacks hurt struggling Utah families

Published July 5, 2013 9:18 am

Section 8 • Advocates for poor fear further reductions in federal subsidies will boost homelessness.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah low-income advocates watch in dismay as the numbers of Section 8 vouchers that subsidize housing for vulnerable households shrink due to continued congressional gridlock and federal sequestration.

Tim Funk heads up the Community Housing Awareness Program at Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City. He blistered Utah's elected representatives in Washington, D.C., for failing to address the needs of people in poverty.Up to 800 Section 8 vouchers could be lost by year's end in Utah, Funk projects, making life worse for families whose income falls in the bottom 20 percent. Future funding is based on the number of slots left at the end of the current year, making this year's reductions impacts far-reaching.

"The word is insidious," Funk said of what he views as the "tearing away of the very foundation of what was a pretty good social welfare system."

"This isn't the America that our elected officials grew up in," said Funk, who has served the low-income population for 40 years.

According to Terry Feveryear, executive director for the Salt Lake City Housing Authority, across-the-board federal budget trims in 2013 are "hitting Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County pretty badly."

"We anticipate dropping by about 150 families, hopefully through attrition," Feveryear said, dreading the possibility that continued cuts could force her agency to rescind rental subsidies to current voucher holders.

Since 2012, the agency lost more than $1 million in Section 8 funding, dropping from almost $17.7 million to $16.6 million.

Feveryear's fear: "If we can't help subsidize the low-income, elderly and chronically homeless, they'll all end up homeless."

Continuing resolutions have kept the federal government running for about five years while Congress spars over budgets, Feveryear said, adding that she supports reductions in spending, "but not on the backs of the poor."

At this point, Salt Lake City's 7,000-name waiting list for rental assistance is closed due to funding cuts and budgetary limbo, she said.

"People are depressed when they come in and find out we can't help them," she said.

The city's Housing Authority currently serves 2,504 Section 8 voucher holders, Feveryear said.

Andre Bartlome, chief financial officer for the Salt Lake County Housing Authority, painted a similarly grim scenario.

"There's really two sides to the pain that housing authorities are feeling," Bartlome said of their ability to serve fewer families and also the need to shrink staff through layoffs or attrition.In his agency, five employees have left their 100-member workforce, and those positions are not being filled.

Statewide, Utah's housing authorities can serve about 11,000 families, and now 430 of those Section 8 slots have been lost through attrition — half of those in Salt Lake County, Bartlome said.

"Normally we would fill those spots," Bartlome said, "but we haven't this year." The wait in Salt Lake County for a Section 8 voucher has run five to six years, he added.

Since 2012, Salt Lake County's Section 8 program lost $974,963, and its reserve balance is expected to drop to a

negative $892,478. Bartlome hopes to bring the reserve back to a positive balance through HUD funding, but he has to compete against agencies nationwide and worries he won't get the money."We're estimating that close to 200 families may have to be forced off the program by the end of the year," Bartlome said. And 2014 will likely bring no relief and possibly deeper pain.

Salt Lake County has not closed its waiting list in 40 years, Bartlome added, but might be forced to do so in order to save administrative dollars.

At the Road Home shelter in Salt Lake City, the number of homeless families continues to rise. And many of those who come through the doors have languished on waiting lists for long periods of time, said Road Home Executive Director Matt Minkevitch.

"We're up to two dozen families or so higher this year than last year, but last year was a record high," Minkevitch said. "To see the availability of affordable housing declining … is heading in the wrong direction."

cmckitrick@sltrib.com

Twitter: @catmck