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HUD Proposal Could Impact ARHA Budget

Alexandria Housing and Redevelopment Authority could lose nearly $2 million annually if the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development carries through with its proposal to revamp the Section 8 housing assistance program.

"A current HUD proposal would replace the current voucher program with a new program they are calling "Flexible Voucher Program," ARHA's director, Housing Operations, Marye Ish, told the Board of Commissioners at their meeting Monday night. If approved by Congress, this would cost ARHA approximately 10 percent of its $18 million operating budget.

Nationally, "HUD's proposal would provide $1.6 billion less than what is needed in Fiscal Year 2005, to support the voucher program at its current level." Voucher funding would be cut by approximately $5 billion over the next four years, according to Ish.

"There are no provisions to adjust Section 8 fee formulas for inflation and renewal funding would not be tied to vouchers in use. Congress would set a funding level with public housing authorities similar to a block grant concept," she explained.

"Less funding could lead to hard choices and tenants would have to pay more of their income for rent. Vouchers may need to be targeted to families at higher income levels and subsidies to current families may need to be reduced," Ish warned.

"There is a very real possibility families would be displaced if this is approved," said William Dearman, executive director, ARHA. "HUD would give a block of money to housing authorities and those authorities would use the money as they see fit."

THE ALARM WAS first sounded two weeks ago when the Bush Administration proposed revamping the Section 8 program that provides rent vouchers to the nation's poor. It's a second attempt by the federal government to convert the program to a block grant formula.

Last year a similar proposal was made to give block monies to the states which in turn would fund local programs. This new scenario would bypass the states and go directly to the 3,000 public housing authorities. Housing authorities nationwide are opposed to the proposal, according to Dearman.

"This is just another way for HUD to get away with doing less," Dearman charged. "The real problem will occur with larger families in areas like Alexandria where rents are very high and they need larger apartments. This will cause more of these families to leave Alexandria to find more affordable housing elsewhere."

A. Melvin Miller, chairman, ARHA Board, pointed out, "This is only a proposal by HUD. It has not been approved by Congress and there is a lot of opposition on the Hill."

Housing Authorities and recipients of the vouchers have been urged to write their Senators and U.S. Representatives discouraging passage of the proposal, Ish explained. They have also been urged to brief local government leaders on the potential fiscal impact.

"Alexandria City government has been informed of the HUD proposal. They have indicated they want to join us in protesting it," Miller told the Board.

One of the hardest hit elements of the ARHA budget would be in administrative fees, according to Dearman and Ish. "There will be less money to administer the program. We now get up to seven percent per two bedroom unit," Dearman explained.

HUD has claimed the proposed changes would offer local Authorities more flexibility and enable them to help more people. Opponents in Congress have maintained that it would hurt those recipients most in need of housing assistance.

Presently, Housing Authorities receive Section 8 vouchers based on a formula of need and availability of units. The vouchers are also portable by the recipients from one jurisdiction to another.

Alexandria has experienced past problems in utilization of vouchers due to high housing costs in the city. Many landlords do not accept them because their properties can bring higher prices on the open market. ARHA has been working with landlords to ease this problem.

Several committee chairs in Congress have indicated they are not prepared to discuss this proposal this year. The Public Housing Authorities Directors Association has come out against the proposal.

IN OTHER ACTIONS:

*Richard Storms, an ARHA resident, requested that the Alexandria Resident Council (ARC) be renamed in honor of its late president and member of the ARHA Board Thomas "Pete" Jones. Miller explained this could only be done by ARC itself since the ARHA Board does not control ARC. It operates under its own bylaws. There has been no ARC representative on the ARHA Board since Jones died last year due to inaction by the organization to select a representative.

*There was an in-depth discussion with the ARHA attorney pertaining to the adoption of updated trespassing rules applicable to ARHA property. It will be further discussed with city officials and the Alexandria Police Department.