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News Section 8 housing affected by sequester

The Section 8 housing program in Macon County could start feeling ill effects from the recent federally imposed sequester. Across the board cuts that were enacted by Congress have begun to put a strain on a variety of public programs. Some local citizens are beginning to feel the burn as Macon Program for Progress (MPP) encounters financial shortfalls in its Section 8 funding.

According to MPP Executive Director Chuck Sutton, MPP provides rental assistance to property owners on behalf of its clients— those who are considered to be low income, many of whom are elderly or are disabled and unable to support their housing needs.

“Individuals come to us and must qualify for the program based on their income and other factors,” said Sutton. “Once we determine whether they are qualified, they are given vouchers that will pay for housing units. The units must meet certain standards provided by HUD (Housing and Urban Development). MPP receives funding in two streams — one is for rental assistance and the other is for administrative costs.”

The funding for rental assistance is around $53,000 a month which supports 142 payments which average about $371 per client. HUD provides $5,800 each month for administrative costs. Two staff members receive pay as well as benefits and office space. Excess administrative funds may be used for rental assistance. However, in the event that there are excess rental assistance funds, the excess funds are not to be used for administrative purposes.

“After the federal sequestration began to take effect, we learned that the funds for the rental assistance program would be reduced by five percent while the administrative funds would be reduced by 31 percent,” said Sutton. “I don't know what is behind this formula, but in the month of May we have seen these cuts become quite effective.”

The administrative cuts could lead to a reduction in staff and work hours, slowly whittling down the effectiveness of the program.

“We will try very hard to tighten the reins on this as much as we can, but we do not anticipate being able to offer the services of the program without some assistance,” he said.

Sutton approached the Macon County commissioners last week at their board meeting to request their help to save the program.

“We know sometimes counties do help community action agencies to fund the services that help those in the community and we ... ask that you consider appropriations to support the administrative functions of the housing program,” he said.

The amount of the funds that may be needed would fall between $10,000 and $12,000 to carry the program through a full fiscal year. As of last week, MPP serves 307 people in the rental assistance program — 142 families with 103 children between the ages 6-18; 30 individuals 62 years old or older with a disability; and 14 others with a disability,

“As you can see, there is a need,” said Sutton. The waiting list for Section 8 housing is two years long and applications are not currently being accepted.

When asked what MPP planned to do to address the funding shortage for the rental assistance portion of the program, Sutton pointed to a reduction in clients receiving assistance.

“Through attrition, we will reduce the number of recipients,” he said.

A public hearing on the budget is set for Tuesday, June 11, at 6 p.m.

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