ARHA weathering sequester storm

By Erich Wagner

Visiting with city councilors last month, U.S. Rep. Jim Moran (D-8) warned that budget cuts tied to the federal sequester would filter down to local agencies, particularly affordable housing.

“It’s going to get much worse this year, and next year, and over the next four years,” Moran said. “Housing is perhaps the biggest hit [of discretionary spending], and Alexandria will be one of the cities particularly hurt.”

Roy Priest, CEO of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said that the agency has weathered the first round of sequester cuts, making up most of its budget shortfall by slashing administrative costs.

“We had an initial $750,000 impact as a result of sequestration, so we had to absorb that [through furloughs and pay freezes],” Priest said.

On the programming side, Priest said the agency reduced some of the funding to local landlords from 110 percent of the standard market rate to 100 percent without passing the cost onto low-income residents.

“With the high cost of housing in the Northern Virginia market, we could pay higher than the payment standard,” he said. “We rolled that back to 100 percent, and luckily none of the landlords withdrew from the program.”

But Priest said further cuts could deal greater damage not only to the his agency, but also to housing authorities around the country. Priest has been lobbying Congress along with the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials to preserve funding for affordable housing.

“[Before the sequester,] a lot of authorities had significant reserve funds, so rather than appropriate what they normally would, [the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development] had to force housing authorities to use their reserves,” Priest said. “In the past if an authority had a shortfall, they could use their reserves, but now there’s no fallback.”

In a letter to the chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, Priest said additional cuts could create “a new crisis of family homelessness.”

“The cuts will take public housing back to a time when little or no consideration was given to the environmental or social needs of the residents,” he wrote. “At that time, housing authorities were little more than property managers.”

Priest said that the sequester also could hurt programs designed to help residents leave affordable housing, like job training and daycare services. He added that the U.S. Senate has proposed restoring funding to pre-sequester levels but the House of Representatives may prove to be a stumbling block to restoring federal dollars.

“We hope the House doesn’t use the sequester as the beginning point,” he said.

But Moran, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said housing authorities shouldn’t hold their breath.

“The budget we’re working with cuts it by about 18 percent below post-sequester levels,” Moran told city council. “Unless Republicans put more revenues on the table and Democrats agree to discuss entitlements, discretionary spending will continue to be cut.”

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