September 12, 2013

Spending gap puts Section 8 vouchers at risk

The Portland Housing Authority cannot promise to absorb the funding loss, as some other cities say they will do.

By Leslie Bridgers
Staff Writer

PORTLAND – As many as 22 families in Portland who receive Section 8 housing vouchers could lose their rental assistance before the end of this year if the Portland Housing Authority cannot close a funding gap created by the federal spending cuts known as sequestration.

click image to enlarge

Donald Philippe Chamberland, 62, of Portland, talks about Section 8 housing outside his apartment at the corner of Alder and Oxford St. in Portland Tuesday, Sept 10, 2013. Chamberland uses section 8 vouchers and says he would be homeless without them.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Melanie Silver 23, of Portland talk about Section 8 housing Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Staff Photographer

Public housing authorities in Maine and elsewhere have stopped issuing vouchers for rental assistance because of reductions in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

While housing authorities in some of Maine's largest cities say they will be able to absorb the funding loss as people move off assistance and aren't replaced, the Portland Housing Authority cannot make that promise.

The authority plans to send letters to landlords and rental assistance recipients next week, letting them know that vouchers could be revoked, said Executive Director Mark Adelson.

However, he said, preventing that situation is "our first-and-foremost effort."

If people do lose their vouchers, he said, they could end up in "a range of scenarios," from getting financial help from family members to becoming homeless.

This year, all-time high numbers of people are coming into Portland's shelters, said Doug Gardner, director of the city's Health and Human Services Department. He said two or three overflow shelters are needed on most nights.

"It's just the worst possible time to be considering" revoking housing vouchers," Adelson said.

He said the housing authority will have to decide by late October whether it will be necessary.

The authority's Board of Commissioners voted on Sept. 5 to use a tiered lottery system to determine who will lose their vouchers, if it comes to that.

Certain people, such as elderly and disabled recipients, would be protected from the cuts, as would people who live in affordable housing developments.

Adelson said about 530 individuals and families who receive vouchers are at risk of losing them through the lottery, which would happen in November. They would get 30 days' notice before losing their assistance.

The Portland Housing Authority can issue as many as 1,789 vouchers. A few months ago, it stopped reissuing vouchers when people left the program, reducing the number of families and individuals it serves by 18, Adelson said.

The number of additional people who leave the program this year and the amount of money the authority receives from HUD, which doles out funding on a monthly basis, will determine whether vouchers will be revoked.

"We don't know how much attrition there's going to be. We don't know how much funding we're going to get," Adelson said.

He expects about $1.2 million less in 2013 than the $15 million the authority got from HUD for rental assistance in 2012. The housing authority has used reserve funds to cover most of the loss but, even with attrition, might come up short.

Based on current projections, Adelson said, attrition would bring the number of vouchers down to 1,739 by the end of this year, but the authority wouldn't have funding for 22 of those.

Depending on whether funding is restored in 2014 or sequestration continues, he said, more families could be eliminated from the program next year.

HUD has projected that 125,000 families nationwide will not receive assistance this year because of sequestration, which began in March.

People who rely on Section 8 vouchers said they wouldn't have homes without them.

Donald Philippe Chamberland, 62, isn't at risk of losing his Section 8 voucher because he receives disability benefits and will not be affected by any cuts in Portland.

"I'd be homeless without it," said Chamberland, who pays $95 per month toward the $740 rent for his one-bedroom apartment on the corner of Oxford and Alder streets.

(Continued on page 2)

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