King County suspends Section 8 housing vouchers as federal cuts loom

With $85 million in automatic federal spending cuts expected to take effect in the coming days and weeks as Democrat and Republican lawmakers in D.C. stalemate on a budget deal, the dust cloud of cuts has made it to Puget Sound shores with King County announcing the suspension of their Section 8 housing voucher program, providing financial assistance to low-income citizens.

Here are the details from King County Housing Authority, who administer the vouchers:

KING COUNTY HOUSING AUTHORITY HAS SUSPENDED THE ISSUANCE OF SECTION 8 VOUCHERS
Financial impact of sequestration cited

In the face of sequestration, the automatic across-the board budget cut that will hit all federal programs starting March 1, the King County Housing Authority has suspended issuance of Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers to the thousands of families that have applied to its general waiting list.

To cope with the impending reduction in federal funding, KCHA is not re-issuing housing vouchers that are turned in by families no longer requiring or eligible for assistance. The Authority normally provides between 45 and 50 vouchers per month to elderly or disabled households, veterans, and families with children.

“Low-income families and individuals struggling with high unemployment in the aftermath of the recession or living on limited fixed incomes and dealing with rising housing costs should not be shut out of critical safety net programs because of gridlock in Washington, D.C.,” said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority.

“Sequestration will result in some 600 fewer families in our local communities receiving crucial rental assistance over the next year. Because rents are so high, many of these families may, quite literally, find themselves out on the street as a result of these arbitrary budget cuts.”

The Section 8 program provides vouchers that enable the most vulnerable low-income families, including elderly and disabled individuals, to rent private apartments. KCHA currently provides assistance to about 11,000 households on any given night. A typical household has an average annual income of $13, 327. Many of these families were already homeless, doubled-up or on the verge of becoming homeless when they received their voucher.

The most recent count of people living on the streets of Seattle and King County showed an increase from 2,594 in 2012 to 2,736 in 2013. Public Health - Seattle & King County records show that 57 homeless individuals died on the streets last year. School districts in the county reported more than 4,400 homeless children in local schools during the 2010-11 school year, a sharp increase from the prior year. These numbers are expected to increase in 2013 as a result of these cuts. Children who are homeless or couch surfing show significantly lower academic achievement and higher drop-out rates.

Although KCHA is taking steps to assure that current voucher program participants are not in imminent danger of losing their housing, the Authority’s ability to serve additional families has been all but eliminated. Funding cuts will impact the Housing Authority’s public housing program as well – delaying critical repairs to apartments and reducing management services. Delayed apartment repairs also mean fewer construction jobs, further slowing the recovery of the local economy. A national study by the Econsult Corporation found that every dollar spent on capital repairs and maintenance in public housing generated $2.12 in economic activity.

“The longer this goes on, the more families will fall through the safety net,” said Norman. “The long-term cost to the community will grow. How do you give a child back a missed year of school?”

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