The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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State News

May 2, 2013

Housing agencies struggling

Less federal funding means fewer employees, rent vouchers, repairs

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 that 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 that 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 that 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.

The federal government finances all or nearly all of the housing authority budgets in the state.

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