The waiting — for the budget — is the hardest part

Norm McLoughlin isn’t asking for much, he just wants to know what’s going on. McLoughlin, the executive director for Kitsap County Consolidated Housing, says he’s been getting some mixed information from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development lately.

In three different letters from HUD, McLoughlin was first informed his current operating budget had been cut by $32,000 for administrative fees and he had lost 16 out of the 374 Section 8 vouchers KCCH currently offers.

The next week, he received a letter that $56 had been given back. The week after, it was $17,000 reinstated.

When a tenant participates in the Section 8 housing program, they pay 30 percent of their monthly income as rent and HUD picks up the rest of the tab.

McLoughlin attended a recent HUD conference hosted by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) at the Family Investment Center in Tacoma about the cutbacks in the HUD federal budget. The meeting brought together “city and county housing authorities, non-profit housing development organizations, advocates for the homeless, tenants and the head of the state Housing Finance Commission,” according to Mike Spahn, a spokesman for Murray.

“HUD doesn’t know what’s going on,” McLoughlin said. “That’s one thing that came out of the conference. Every week we get a different letter.”

McLoughlin said KCCH will be able to soak up the cost of 16 housing vouchers because it has a reserve fund of approximately $250,000.

“We won’t feel any immediate cuts because of that (losing 16 vouchers),” McLoughlin said.

As things stand now, the KCCH may lose 16 vouchers now and 16 more in the fall. The hardest part about losing money is that it is all being done retroactively. That means that if the money is already allocated to a specific part of the KCCH budget and has been spent, then KCCH has to move money from another part of its budget or dip into its reserve fund.

This year, the federal budget wasn’t passed until early spring. The fiscal year begins in October. Essentially, the KCCH was spending money based on the previous year’s budget.

When and if the cuts come down, they will be retroactive to the beginning of the fiscal year, so the KCCH will have to adjust accordingly.

So far, KCCH is lucky in comparison to other housing authorities in Washington because it still has a reserve fund to tap into. Some, like the one in Tacoma, will have to cut some 400 people from the Section 8 program or take other action, McLoughlin said.

For now, it’s just a waiting game.

“We’re trying to find out what the reality is,” McLoughlin said. “(HUD) has sent us three or four different letters saying different things.”

Murray agreed.

“ ... The housing crisis is getting more severe but federal support is declining,” Murray said. “And I know HUD’s changes to Section 8 are really wreaking havoc. It’s putting even more pressure on the families who rely on you to keep a roof over their heads every night.”

Murray hosted the meeting so she could get facts to offer specific information on how families are being affected by budget cuts.

“They’re playing games with the formula for housing vouchers in ways that will reduce the number of vouchers for low-income working families in Washington state and around the country. And they’ve made it retroactive — taking vouchers away from people who finally got help after waiting on a waiting list for months.”

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