Congress Accuses HUD of Mismanagement

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Section 8 tenants from around the city rallied downtown recently to protest what they described as “deliberate miscalculations” by the federal government which are threatening the housing of thousands of families and seniors in communities across Illinois.

Project-based Section 8 tenants from around the city, including members of the Lakeview Action Coaltion, gather outside Federal Plaza on Oct. 6, 2008.
Photo by Mary C. Johns

Led by the Lakeview Action Coalition (LAC), the protestors alleged mismanagement of Project Based Voucher Program by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development at a press conference and briefing outside HUD’s local headquarters in downtown Chicago on October 6, 2008 – International Housing Rights Day.

Nellie Shaakov (from left) and Emma Davidson, Ukrainian residents from several federally funded projected-based Section 8 properties, were among the rally participants calling on Illinois Senators Dick Durbin and Barack Obama and U.S. Rep. Emmanuel (D-IL) to make sure that the HUD 2009 budget was fully funded for them to remain in their homes.
Photo by Mary C. Johns

The group reported that owners, concerned about HUD’s ability to meet their obligations, have responded by “offering tenants month-to-month leases, diminishing services in the building, or in some cases, refusing to renew their contracts with HUD, displacing hundreds of families.”

They added that Congress recently passed a continuing resolution with language that allows HUD to access funds at an accelerated rate so they can pay owners of the buildings with expiring Section 8 contracts from the past year.

“Housing is a human right, and at a time when we are talking about spending $700 billion to rescue banks and other private entities, we need to make sure that our own government programs are in order and fully funded,” the protestors stated.

“We need to know about why our government agency does not have enough money,” declared Barbara Campbell, a member of the Lincoln Park Plaza Tenant Association and the LAC.

Campbell explained the significance of a poster featuring a huge drawing of a calculator displayed by one LAC member:

“HUD clearly needs some help calculating its budget and we are here to help them do the right math. There is a $2.8 billion dollar shortfall in the HUD budget, and we need to make sure that this 2009 budget addresses that shortfall,” she declared.

During the briefing, Campbell and other members of the organization called on Democratic U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Barack Obama, and U.S. Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), to intervene.

“We invited Sens. Obama and Durbin and Rep. Emmanuel to join us today. They have been helpful in filling in the gaps, but HUD created the gaps and we need to get them all filled,” Campbell said.

Sheldon Edidin, a disabled veteran who lives in the Commonwealth Apartments for elderly and disabled people in Lincoln Park, said he was grateful for the Project-Based Voucher Program’s existence.

“Until I was able to move into the Commonwealth, I had been constantly homeless, living in shelters and my car, and now I have stability in my life for the first time in a long time. Thanks to the Project-Based Section 8 Program,” Edidin said.

Kathy Hoddeson, another Project-Based Section 8 recipient who lives in the Belmont Towers Apartments, discussed her high-rise building, which is home to 277 families, many of whom are elderly and disabled with low-incomes, in the demographically diverse Lakeview community.

“At one time, I was unable to find a good paying job and my husband was repeatedly hospitalized for heart problems,” Hoddeson said. “Living in a HUD building ensured that we didn’t also end up homeless. The reason I’m here today taking a vacation day from work is that, funding for affordable housing across the nation is in peril. Housing and Urban Development programs are especially at risk due to the budget shortfalls.”

Evelyn Jones, a senior resident of the Commonwealth Apartments who uses a wheelchair, told Residents’ Journal after the press conference that she was scared that she might lose her housing.

She said that she and others at the building had already received their letters informing them that their 12-month leases were soon to expire.

“Hopefully, the government, the city and everybody will see that this is really a serious problem,” she said.

Emma Davidson, a Ukrainian resident of the Belmont Towers for the past 32 years, told RJ after the event that she and her neighbors were upset with HUD for not fully funding the Project-Based Voucher program.

“We are very upset that HUD cannot calculate properly how much they need money,” Davidson said. “This is the second year. I am surprised that they still did not take the lesson. From 1976, I just came to this country and lived in the same building. It is the best building in the world for me.”

Davidson said her rent had fluctuated between a flat rate and a subsidized amount.

“Sometimes it was not subsidized but I paid full rent when I worked and then it became again subsidized and I didn’t want to go out anyplace else. It’s the best,” she declared.

The Senate Accuses HUD
The Lakeview residents’ concerns are part of a national dust-up between the White House and Congress. In July, the Senate Appropriations Committee accused HUD and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget of “deliberately misleading the Congress and the public” by not requesting adequate resources needed to stabilize the national Project-Based Rental Assistance Program.

They added that HUD’s and OMB’s “budget game-playing” has resulted in “deliberately delaying payments to owners for periods of up to 6 months – causing owners to miss mortgage and utility payments and calling into question the government’s commitment to this long-term rental assistance program.”

The Project-Based Rental Assistance Program provides a rental subsidy to a private landlord that is tied to a specific housing unit as opposed to a voucher, which allows a recipient to seek a unit. In both cases, the tenants pay 30 percent of their adjusted income for rent and the federal government is responsible for the remainder of the rent, up to what HUD determines as the fair market rent. Currently there are 1.4 million families in Section 8 housing, over half of whom are elderly or disabled. Close to 80 percent of the current Project-Based Section 8 units, or 14,000 contracts, are funded by 1-year contracts through annual appropriations.

On July 14, Senate Appropriations Committee member U.S. Sen. Patty Murray’s (D-WA) rebuked HUD on their funding request for the program:

“For over 2 years, the Committee has attempted without success to work with HUD to determine the full costs needed to renew all expiring project-based contracts for their usual 12-month term. These efforts have made it clear to the Committee that both HUD and OMB have been deliberately misleading the Congress and the public on these actual program costs.

“In so doing, HUD has put hundreds of contracts at risk covering thousands of tenants across the Nation.”

HUD was unavailable for comment by RJ press time.

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