FORT WAYNE – After years of federal concern that it was not issuing enough vouchers to help the poor pay their rent, the Fort Wayne Housing Authority has reached its voucher goal and spent down its reserves.
But now local housing authority officials fear the ongoing budget battles in Washington could mean a cut in funding that would force them to drop the number of vouchers – just when there are no reserves to make up the difference.
Formerly known as Section 8, the housing choice vouchers allow low-income families to rent apartments at a rate they can afford, while the landlord is paid the full rate. For years, however, the local housing authority issued hundreds fewer vouchers than it was approved for, and had stockpiled money the federal government had sent to pay for vouchers.
A 2008 audit by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development agency found more than 1,000 Fort Wayne households could have been helped with $6.2 million the agency failed to use. A 2011 Journal Gazette investigation showed that in the time since that audit, FWHA could have helped an average of 400 more families a month.
Now, however, the Fort Wayne Housing Authority has issued so many vouchers the authority may need to start a new waiting list because the current list of people waiting for vouchers is dwindling. The agency is authorized by HUD to issue 2,870 vouchers a month; since June the agency has issued an average of 2,842 a month with a high of 2,904 issued in June. The reserves were already being spent down, officials said; HUD cut funding in November and December to force a finish to that process.
Now comes a new fear: FWHA Executive Director Maynard Scales said the budget wrangling and drastic cuts scheduled to take place in two months – unless Congress can work out a deal – could mean cuts in funding. And there are few reserves to make up the difference.
Board member Andy Downs said the agency has less than a months worth of reserves on hand, meaning a cut in funding would require immediate action.
If Congress were to shut down, we could fund about 75 percent of a months rent for people, Downs said.
The administrative fees the agency gets to run the program have already been cut by HUD for January and February to 75 percent of what they were, forcing the agency to make cuts and find savings, Scales said.
HUD has not cut funding for vouchers, Scales said, but he believes it is a warning that those cuts could be coming.
The uncertainty still exists, so were trying to tighten up where we can, he said. It looks like were going to be OK, but we want to have a contingency plan on the shelf just in case.
That contingency plan consists of seeing how many vouchers would have to be dropped in various scenarios and working out which vouchers would be dropped first, namely individuals without children in the household and recipients who have been in the program the longest.
Laura J. Feldman, a spokeswoman in HUDs Chicago office, which oversees Fort Wayne, said agencies have not, to her knowledge, been told to expect voucher cuts, but she acknowledges that no one knows what will happen in the future, saying predictions would be pure speculation and premature.
The 2013 Continuing Resolution the government is operating under keeps administrative fees at 2012 levels, she said.
Because there is such a crush of people trying to get housing vouchers, FWHA adds names to its waiting list only every few years, and then only for a short window, so those who want vouchers outside that time frame cannot even get on the waiting list. When the waiting list for possible voucher recipients was reopened in 2010, almost 4,000 people applied for help in just 15 days.