Pa.’s housing agencies cutting staff, rent aid
HARRISBURG – Pennsylvania’s local housing authorities are absorbing deep federal funding cuts, prompting them to shed employees, cut back rent vouchers or put off repairs to housing they own.
A deeper worry is that the automatic federal funding cuts known as the sequester will never be replaced, and their finances and ability to serve the poor will be permanently diminished, housing authority officials said Thursday.
“It’s appearing more and more that the sequester is the new baseline,” said Daniel Farrell, the Allentown Housing Authority’s executive director. “So going down the road, that’s what we have to anticipate to run our programs on.”
Housing authorities report they have already been absorbing funding cuts for the past decade, before the latest cuts took effect March 1. But the latest cuts were significant for their depth and suddenness.
Initially, housing authority executives might have anticipated that the federal government would deliver the missing part of the money once Congress reconsidered the cuts. Housing authority officials estimate they are losing nearly 10 percent of their federal subsidy.
But Congress has not acted to undo the cuts, and that worries Farrell and others.
“They’ll say, ‘You functioned during the sequester, and therefore you’ll be able to continue to function,”’ he said.
Another problem is the cuts are deepest in the money that housing authorities must use to operate the units they essentially own and the Section 8 rent-aid vouchers they give to private landlords.
The cuts leave some housing authorities without enough money to meet existing lease agreements with private landlords, although HUD has suggested that it will cover those deficits, said Joel Johnson, executive director of the Montgomery County Housing Authority, which is among those authorities facing that dilemma.
Farrell, meanwhile, said the uncertainty of the authority’s revenues also makes it harder to get private developers involved in partnerships to build new housing units.
The federal government finances all or nearly all of the housing authority budgets in the state.
The Philadelphia Housing Authority, which calls itself the city’s largest landlord, said it laid off 82 employees to balance a $32 million cut while avoiding putting any residents on the street.
“We’re going to do whatever is necessary to make sure our residents don’t become homeless,” said PHA spokeswoman Nichole Tillman.
Farrell, the Allentown Housing Authority’s executive director, said he’s leaving about 10 percent of his staff positions unfilled and about 80 fewer families over 12 months will get rent vouchers. That means the authority’s waiting list of about 10,000 families will grow longer, he said.
Erie City’s housing authority is putting off renovations, eliminating rent aid for 87 families and dropping a code enforcement contract with the city. The Allegheny County Housing Authority laid off 13 employees and will be able to help 375 fewer families with rental aid while it considers employee furloughs, executive director Frank Aggazio said.
Montgomery County’s housing authority is tapping reserves, leaving about 15 percent of its staff positions unfilled, reducing hours and putting off things like replacing light bulbs in the units it owns.
“We won’t be responding to the low priorities as fast because our staff is already stretched thin,” Johnson said.