Proposed changes by the Bush Administration to the operations and funding of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) could impact the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority and its constituents.
That was the message brought to the City Council Tuesday night, Jan. 25, by Christine Siska, director, Legislative Affairs, National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, during a work session between council members and ARHA commissioners. Of particular concern are policy changes to HUD's administration of the Section 8 Public Housing Assistance Program.
"HUD is operating on the assumption that you do reform to cut expenditures. That is not what reform is about. It is about improving a given program," Siska said.
"This administration seems to be backing away from a long-term federal commitment in this program (Section 8). And the Bush administration has been leaking some of its reform ideas. This is going to be a tough year," she said.
One of those proposals is to cut Community Development Block Grants by 50 percent and transfer its administration to the U.S. Department of Commerce, according to Siska.
"NAHRO IS WORKING hard on a program to reform the program (Section 8) which grew out of the 1937 original Housing Act. We don't need tinkering. What we need is wholesale reform," Siska said.
The Section 8 program monies which provide housing subsidies to landlords who rent housing to low income individuals and families based on a given formula, accounts for approximately one half of HUD's $32 billion budget, according to Siska.
"Both the Conference of Mayors and the League of Cities will be weighing in on the proposal to cut these programs. The real point of this presentation is the impact on Alexandria's Section 8 Program this could have," said Mayor William D. Euille.
"By changing the definition of community development, HUD maintains that the same number of people will still be served. But, how those people are defined can change. It also means that Housing Agencies will be required to seek tenants with higher incomes," Siska said.
Under present eligibility requirements for Section 8 funds, "no tenant is supposed to pay more than 30 percent of their income for rent," she said.
"The Bush administration is pushing home ownership. But they are not showing any concern for what happens to many people after they acquired that home — how it is maintained, if the payments can be made and other matters," Siska said.
"One of the real problems we have had is getting owners to renew their Section 8 commitment. Now the problem is going to be the amount of money available for renewals," said A. Melvin Miller, chair, ARHA.
"The point is, if they (HUD) cut the amount of money available there is no philosophical argument with the owners. It's just there won't be enough money," Miller said.
Alexandria presently has approximately 1,000 section 8 units throughout the city. Fox Chase has 428 such units, according to Mildrilyn Davis, director of the Alexandria Office of Housing.
OTHER MATTERS discussed at the joint work session included:
* An update on the transition of Samuel Madden Homes Downtown to Chatham Square. By December 2005 all 52 public housing units must be constructed and ready for occupancy in order to keep the tax credits, tied to the financing of the project, viable, according to Connie Lenox, administrative director of development for ARHA. The first to move into the new units will be three former residents. When questioned as to whether any former "Berg" residents were having trouble getting back into the new units, Marye Ish, director of ARHA Housing Operations, said, "Not of the original families. However, some have chosen not to return."
* Euille asked what was being done to improve the appearance of the housing units adjacent to the new Chatham Square units. "In the spring we intend to improve some of the landscaping around those units," said William Dearman, ARHA executive director.
Euille closed the work session by announcing that ARHA and the council needed to continue to work together. He also indicated that another work session will be scheduled to deal in-depth with the Section 8 proposed changes and the impact that might have on ARHA. Presently ARHA receives 77 percent of its budget from HUD, according to Dearman.