Funding cuts may bring hard choices to housing agency

Thursday, June 10, 2004

It won't be easy, but somehow the McCook Housing Agency is going to have to address funding cuts of anywhere from $20,000 to $42,000 in its voucher program come July.

The Section 8 voucher program offers assistance to low-income families and elderly on rental payments on privately owned housing.

Rebecca Dutcher of the McCook Housing Authority said she received the first news of the cutbacks in March and then got new figures in May. Those figures were incorrect and were re-released later that month. Now she's just waiting for her first check of the fiscal year in July to figure out exactly how she's going to address the funding loss.

"I think it will be closer to the $20,000 cut," she said. If so, she plans to address the cuts through a cut in staff hours and a cut in spending. However, if the cuts are at the high end of the estimate, she said, "I'll have to do something about the vouchers."

Dutcher said she has two obvious options, first to cut the number of vouchers available and second, to increase the amount each recipient must pay for rent. The second option is the least desirable since the people who need it the most will be the most affected.

As for the first option, Dutcher said, "we've stayed below the 73 vouchers we have, so we can make sure those already receiving vouchers can keep them."

Housing agencies across the country will be affected by the cutbacks. In Kearney, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development recently notified the housing agency its request for $369,466 in vouchers for 2004 had been denied. The agency also learned that, following a congressional directive, HUD will be paying Kearney only $279,324.

Unlike McCook, which has not used all of its 73 vouchers, Kearney currently funds 103 vouchers and has a waiting list of 200, but due to the cuts, in July the number of vouchers will be cut by 23.

Another problem the housing authorities are facing is the fact that when lawmakers cut funding, they made it retroactive to January. That means that the agencies could be looking at repaying voucher money they have already paid out.

Dutcher said she's developed a "wait and see" attitude and will deal with issues as they arise. "All I know is it's been a very frustrating summer," she said.

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