Shortfall forces housing agency to cut 147 jobs

City plans to lay off 63

84 unfilled posts abolished

$5.5 million more to be trimmed

Majority are terminated from social services office

July 12, 2004|By Laura Vozzella | Laura Vozzella,SUN STAFF

The city's housing authority is laying off 63 workers - from auditors and apartment superintendents to counselors who help tenants learn to read - and more staff cuts are expected within weeks to help cover an $11 million reduction in federal funding.

"We're not happy over here, but it's something we need to do," city housing Commissioner Paul T. Graziano said last week. "We have to confront the reality we have, which is significantly reduced funding to operate our public housing programs."

The Housing Authority of Baltimore City, a federal- and state-funded agency that oversees about 13,000 public housing units and 10,300 Section 8 vouchers, sent termination notices to the workers late last week.

The job cuts, which take effect Aug. 6, follow the authority's decision to abolish 84 vacant positions this month.

By eliminating the 147 jobs and finding other cost savings, the agency will save about $5.5 million a year - about half of the $11 million shortfall, Graziano said. In the next few weeks, the agency will have to find ways to save another $5.5 million, probably by cutting more staff, he said.

"Personnel is by far the biggest cost," Graziano said, noting that utilities were second. "It's pretty hard to cut utility costs."

Of the 63 jobs, 50 were cut from the agency's Office of Resident Services, which offers social and health services, activities for the elderly and children, literacy education and employment programs to public housing tenants. Workers who lost jobs in that office include office clerks, case managers, counselors and aides who work with residents.

Anthony Coates, who leads the union representing 288 housing authority employees, said the cuts should have come instead from the central office, where, he said, "secretaries have secretaries [and] people [make] $32,000 and $35,000 to open mail."

"The higher-level staff are where the big salaries are," said Coates, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 647.

But Graziano said the authority had little choice about what to cut, since it is losing federal funds earmarked for particular services. The central office will lose 13 staff members, including Melvin Edwards, a spokesman.

The salaries for those laid off range from $15,500 to $68,000 a year, said David Tillman, a housing spokesman. The average salaries for those laid off was $28,000 for resident services workers and $41,000 for those from the central office, he said.

"It's very regrettable," Graziano said. "Every employee in this organization is very valuable to us and those who we serve. And to lose any one person is a sad thing."

The authority employs about 1,300 workers. Its budget for this fiscal year is about $188 million, down from just under $200 million last year.

The reduction is due mostly to the $11 million in cuts to federal grants, operating subsidies and capital funds, the agency said. State funding also shrank.

The agency says it will not eliminate the social service programs, but will run them with a smaller staff.

Anna Warren, chairwoman of the tenant council for Claremont Homes, still expects the cuts to hurt tenants at the 444-unit development in Northeast Baltimore.

"All the residents are going to be affected," she said, predicting that services will be reduced.

But she blamed leaders in Washington, not Baltimore.

"It's not actually his fault that he has to lay people off," she said, referring to Graziano. "In my opinion, I think President Bush is trying to get out of housing poor people. And that's my own opinion."

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