If Congress does not achieve a reasonable compromise by year's end, sequestration or across-the-board federal budget cuts will kick in, and low-income advocates in Utah warn that the weakest segment of the population could be hurt the most.
Recent figures from the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities suggest that careening off the so-called fiscal cliff would chop close to $1.5 million in statewide Community Development Block Grant funding, 861 fewer households could get rental housing vouchers, and public housing assistance would shrink by $576,265.
Kerry Bate, director of housing opportunities for the Salt Lake County Housing Authority, fears losing hard-fought ground if the cuts occur.
"This is a meat-ax approach," Bate said. "My biggest concern is that we have a lot of people in very fragile housing situations."With the recent recession, what used to be a two-year wait for housing assistance has now stretched to five.
"These proposed cuts would exacerbate that a great deal," Bate said. "Not only would it delay new people coming into the program, it would also impact those we've already helped."
Janice Kimball, housing and services director for the county's Housing Authority, said their Section 8 voucher waiting list now has more than 6,900 names on it as families are backlogged to get access to a voucher, which subsidizes rents.
"We're able to help 15 to 20 households per month with Section 8," Bate said.
All totaled, the Salt Lake County Housing Authority would miss out on about $1.5 million for all of its programs, said Andre Bartlome, chief financial officer for the Housing Authority.
About $300,000 of that would be trimmed from the public housing program in which Salt Lake County serves as landlord to 625 households.
"That would mean we can't do the maintenance and property management as well as we do it now," Bartlome said.
If it occurs, sequestration follows on the heels of several years in public housing cuts, which Bate warned could "absolutely put more people on the streets."
"The simplest and shortest way to get people off the streets is a housing subsidy," Bate said, adding that the inverse of that statement also holds true.
Roughly 40 percent of the state's vulnerable population which includes low-income, elderly and disabled individuals are served by the Salt Lake County Housing Authority.
A similar percentage receives help from Salt Lake City's Housing Authority.
Terry Feveryear is deputy director for the city's Housing Authority. She also serves as vice chairman of the national housing committee for the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), whose members administer federal programs that include Public Housing, Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, CDBG and HOME.
Section 8 funding for Salt Lake City has been cut repeatedly over the past eight years, Feveryear said, and another 8.2 percent trim would mean that 350 to 375 fewer families could be served. A similar trim to public housing would mean further building deterioration.
"We wouldn't have the funds to do repairs," Feveryear said.
The Salt Lake City and County housing authorities operate a 300-unit building for senior citizens at 1992 S. 200 East. The city's side is called City Plaza, the county's portion is High Rise.
"Sequestration basically means taking a big cut from the population that needs it the most," Feveryear said.
Salt Lake City has over 5,000 names on its Section 8 waiting list, Feveryear added, and applicants generally face a three-year wait.
Bill Tibbitts, associate director of the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City, voiced concerns about sequestration even though his organization would not be impacted directly by federal funding cuts ."We have an emergency food pantry. When other resources get tighter, we see a surge here," Tibbitts said.
Whether it's across-the-board cuts or trims to specific programs that could hurt struggling families, Tibbitts said he is wary of how lawmakers' action or inaction will impact the societal safety net.
"Doing nothing is not an option, but many progressive organizations are concerned about alternatives," Tibbitts said. "What do we fear most sequestration or cuts to Medicare and Social Security? It will be interesting to see what they come up with."
The fiscal cliff and vulnerable Utahns
Almost $1.5M less • Community Development Block Grants
$515,490 less • HOME (affordable housing) program
Almost $1M less • American Indian housing grants
861 fewer households • Rental-housing vouchers
$576,265 less • Public housing assistance
$712,702 less • Homeless assistance
$46,633 less • HOPWA program that assists with housing for people with AIDS
Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities