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HUD Delivers Financial Body Blow to ARHA

Twenty five percent of Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) residents who receive housing allowance subsidies under the federal Section 8 Housing Assistance Program could see their rents double in the near future.

That was the prediction made by William Dearman, executive director of ARHA at Monday night's Board of Commissioners meeting.

"We have a very serious problem with Section 8 that HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) officially notified us of last week," Dearman told the Board.

"We feel HUD has made a very damaging decision that could be very harmful to the residents. Persons now paying $200 a month rent could end up paying double that under these new regulations," Dearman said.

The first warning of a change in HUD Section 8 policy came last month with a proposal by the federal agency to replace the current voucher program with a new program entitled "Flexible Voucher Program." It would cost local Redevelopment/Housing Authorities nationwide approximately $1.6 billion annually.

For ARHA the lost revenue, if HUD's proposed plans are not halted by Congress, would amount to a projected loss of approximately $1.1 million. That could be reduced to approximately $703,000 if reserve funds earmarked for this program are used.

"HUD does not permit us to dip into the reserve for more than 50 percent," said Marye Ish, director, ARHA Housing Operations. That would amount to approximately $350,000.

"However, that would mean that we would run out of money in this category by fall unless we can get money from HUD's central fund," she said.

ALEXANDRIA WOULD just be one of more than 3,000 Housing and Redevelopment Authorities nationally applying for monies from the central fund if the regulations aren't reversed, Ish pointed out. There is no indication, at this time, HUD would even be willing to allow this.

Presently, there is legislation in Congress to prevent HUD from implementing this new concept, according to Ish. Dearman asked the Board to approve a letter to Alexandria's congressional delegation protesting HUD's actions. He also announced a nationwide protest was scheduled to be held at HUD headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, May 26.

In referring to the present legislation, A. Melvin Miller, chairman, ARHA Board, said, "This might help us in the long run by enabling us to recoup the shortfall. But it has a long way to go in Congress and is not going to help right now. How do we make the adjustments without burdening our Section 8 residents?"

With little or no debate, ARHA Board vice chairman Carlyle "Connie" Ring, Jr., moved that the letter be sent to Alexandria's congressional representative immediately. It was approved unanimously.

IN DEBATING whether or not to dip into reserve funds to cut the shortfall, Miller asked, "In staff's judgment, if we do this will we be able to keep our residents covered this year?" Ish's answered "yes."

Dearman had previously warned the Board, "There is a very real possibility families would be displaced if this is approved." On May 20, ARHA was officially notified by HUD that they were implementing the new regulations as of July 1.

A similar proposal was made last year by the Bush Administration to give block grant monies to the states which in turn would fund local Section 8 programs. The new scenario would give the money directly to the local authorities. But it also cuts their reimbursements in the administrative category.

"This is just another way for HUD to get away with doing less," Dearman charged last month when first alerted to the potential shift in the Section 8 program. "The real problem will occur with larger families in areas like Alexandria where rents are very high and they need larger apartments."

PRIOR TO RECEIVING the news about Section 8, ARHA's Board was presented with a petition signed by 101 ARHA residents demanding a recall election for the president of the Alexandria Residents Council (ARC).

That person sits on the ARHA Board. But the seat has been vacant since the death last year of Thomas "Pete" Jones.

Richard Storms, an ARHA resident and active member of ARC, claimed in presenting the position, that Richard Blake, the presently elected ARC president, had not "fulfilled his duties" and was "not eligible to be the ARC representative to the ARHA Board of Commissioners."

Miller, as he had done at the April meeting, pointed out that the ARHA Board does not control ARC. It operates by its own bylaws and the ARC representative to the ARHA Board is named by City Council, Miller explained. "It is on Council's docket this week to name that person," Miller said.

Storms insisted he was operating on advice from ARHA staff member Dr. Archie Morris, director, Social Services. Morris clarified to the Board, "If 10 percent of the residents sign a petition recall an election can be called by a third party. That would be someone other than the ARHA Board or ARC."

Ring asked that Moore check all the signatures and names of residents. He also noted, "Many of the signatures appeared to be members of the same household."

Moore pointed out that the only requirement to be eligible to vote in an ARC election was to be a resident, 18 years of age or older, or head of a household. The 10 percent requirement would require only 80 signatures, according to Storms.

Another requirement raised by Miller was that the purpose of the petition must be stated on each signature page, not just the cover page. This was not done.

"Mr. Storms should be commended for attempting to do something to bring an ARC representative on this Board. It is something I have been trying to get done for some time," Commissioner Carter Flemming said.

"I would join in commending Mr. Storms for getting this done. But it must be done by legal regulations," Ring added.

"ARC is for the residents and many who signed the petition don't even know what ARC is for or how the elections are conducted. I had to explain it to them prior to getting their signatures," Storms insisted.

He was assured by Miller that the petition would be evaluated and action will be recommended. The next step is to verify the signatures for legitimacy and then to select the third party to conduct the election recall. It was not clear what impact Tuesday night's City Council action in naming the new ARC/ARHA Board representative would have on the petition recall proposal.