Housing authority eases fears about losing rental assistance

EVERETT — The Everett Housing Authority has a strategy to ensure that potential budget cuts will not result in people losing their rental assistance.

Ashley Lommers-Johnson, executive director of the housing authority, said that people receiving rental assistance shouldn’t worry.

The Everett Housing Authority’s policy is to not terminate anyone from the Housing Choice Voucher program without cause, he said.

The federal government is operating without a budget, so funding for programs has been maintained at last year’s level. But without taking into account inflation or rent increases, that amounts to a de facto 6 percent budget cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s voucher programs.

Rising rents also are taking a toll on finances. Average monthly rents for Everett housing rose to $800 from $762 over the course of 2016, Lommers-Johnson said. Normally, HUD’s annual adjustments would cover some of that difference.

That 6 percent cut amounts to about $1 million from the Everett Housing Authority’s $27 million annual budget for voucher programs, or the equivalent of 140 vouchers.

Many residents in Everett’s housing programs have been calling the authority, worried that their subsidized rent is at risk, Lommers-Johnson said.

There are other options available for making up the funding gap.

“Some of that we would pick up with our administrative reserves, some of it we would request from HUD shortfall funds, and hopefully we can close that gap with that combination,” he said.

Both of those mechanisms have helped the authority counteract funding cuts in the past. The HUD shortfall fund specifically is set aside for local housing authorities whose regular funding gets reduced.

“There’s that safety valve for folks in cases when HUD has run out of money and there’s budget cuts,” Lommers-Johnson said.

Finally, the Everett Housing Authority has an average attrition rate of 14.5 people per month, so even the loss of 140 vouchers would be unlikely to affect anyone in the program.

It would mean the waiting list would grow, however.

There are currently 1,773 people waiting to receive Housing Choice Vouchers, Lommers-Johnson said. The authority has begun the process of obtaining vouchers for 309 of them.

During the 2013 sequestration, when automatic federal funding cuts resulted in a slowdown in many government departments, the authority dipped into reserves and froze the issuing of new vouchers.

Those who were in the application process had to wait, but they were at the front of the line once the budget was approved, Lommers-Johnson said.

People already receiving assistance were not affected, although the Housing Authority of Snohomish County, a separate agency, ended up losing 86 vouchers during the sequestration.

Even if the federal government was forced to shut down at the end of April, HUD already has allocated the funding for May and June, Lommers-Johnson said.

“If there’s any chance we would run out of funding for current people who are leased up, we’ll tap shortfall funding, we’ll tap our reserves and maybe the board will look at other funding sources,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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