U.S. subsidies for housing to decline for city

Fewer Section 8 vouchers given under new formula

`This is obviously a huge loss'

Other jurisdictions also expecting tighter funding

February 07, 2005|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore will lose nearly $11 million in federal housing subsidies this year as a result of tighter spending limits that will also lead to substantial cuts in the region's more prosperous counties.

The impact of cuts to the federal Section 8 subsidized housing program will be greatest in Baltimore City, and in prosperous counties such as Howard, Anne Arundel and Montgomery, where rapidly rising rents mean housing dollars don't go as far. Programs in Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties will feel less pressure.

The cuts come as the city faces uncertainty about the remedies a federal judge will order after a recent finding that the Department of Housing and Urban Development violated the law by failing to take a regional approach to house Baltimore's poorest families.

The decision last month by U.S. District Judge Marvin J. Garbis came in response to a lawsuit by the American Civil Liberties Union charging that poor black families were illegally concentrated in Baltimore's downtown public housing projects.

Garbis hasn't revealed how he would rectify the situation, but it could involve using Section 8 certificates to move families to the suburbs. The federal cut could limit or remove that option.

Housing officials throughout the area hope to avoid taking certificates away from poor families who receive them. There are long waiting lists for housing vouchers in many areas, and many of those are closed to new applicants.

Baltimore is losing $10.9 million in Section 8 funding from HUD, said city housing spokesman David Tillman. "This is obviously a huge loss," Tillman said.

The city's federal funding is dropping from $92.3 million to $81.4 million, based on a new formula HUD is using nationally. Instead of paying for all the vouchers the city is authorized for, the agency measured vouchers used during May, June and July, then cut administrative funds and another 4 percent across the board. Baltimore typically doesn't use all its vouchers because of the difficulty finding good housing to rent in the city.

Baltimore has 11,170 low-income families and disabled or elderly people using the vouchers, Tillman said.

Howard County's Section 8 funding is dropping by about 10 percent this year, said county housing director Leonard S. Vaughan.

"They're saying to us, `We don't care what your costs are, this is the maximum amount you're going to get,'" Vaughan said.

Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties will each lose 4 percent in federal funding.

"Fewer families will be subsidized. The whole program may change," said Larry A. Loyd, executive director of the Anne Arundel County Housing Commission.

Low-income families are typically not seeing wage increases, said Joy Flood, acting director of Montgomery County's rental assistance program, and are less able to pay more when landlords raise rents.

Even counties that will receive funding increases say the funding will be eaten by higher housing costs.

Baltimore County is to get $1.8 million more for Section 8 this year, but the money must pay for higher rents, plus vouchers given to 311 families moved from the demolished Kingsley Park Apartments in Middle River.

"It really represents flat funding," said Lois Cramer, Baltimore County's housing voucher administrator.

Baltimore County has 6,000 very-low-income families who depend on the program for shelter, Cramer said, but current funding won't allow the county to help anyone on the waiting list of about 10,000 families, because as rents rise, the number of vouchers in use must be trimmed.

Howard County's waiting list closed 16 months ago, and Montgomery County has similar problems, with a closed waiting list with another 10,000 families, officials said.

Harford County housing administrator Shawn Kingston said he laid off one employee because of administrative funding cuts and froze the county's 1,300-family waiting list in June. But he hopes to issue up to 75 new vouchers this year.

Harford reduced the amount provided by the vouchers by an average of $50 a month, and now requires every family, except in hardship cases, to pay at least $50 a month toward rent, Kingston said.

Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes and eight other Democrats on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee protested what they fear will be a dismantling of core HUD programs in a Jan. 21 letter to President Bush.

Nearly 15 million American families are paying more than half their income for housing, the letter said, and without help, families trying to live on low wages "lack the stability to find and retain employment," which also hurts their children's school performance.

Local agencies were notified of how much federal Section 8 money they will get for this year in a Jan. 21 letter signed by David A. Vargas, director of the Office of Housing Voucher Programs.

Nationally, the program that helps 2 million low-income families afford decent housing will spend $13.4 billion this year, a slight increase over 2004.

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