Sequester cuts affect local HUD funding

Despite rumors that low-income families in urban areas of Virginia have been advised to move to West Virginia to obtain Housing and Urban Development funding for low-cost housing, the executive director of the Randolph County Housing Authority says she’s unaware of such a trend.

Karen Jacobson heads the RCHA, which administers the federal Housing Choice Voucher program – also known as Section 8 funding, or more commonly, HUD funding – for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a cabinet department in the executive branch of the U.S. government.

The HCV program was designed to help low-income families, the elderly and disabled people afford “decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market,” according to information on HUD’s website.

As a result of the sequester that went into effect March 1, HCV programs in all 50 states were subjected to across-the-board cuts. Jacobson said that although waiting lists for the vouchers are likely shorter in rural areas of West Virginia than in urban areas in neighboring states, a waiting list is still a waiting list – and the housing authority’s waiting list for Section 8 vouchers is full. The housing authority is not currently accepting additional applicants for Section 8 vouchers, she said.

“In some urban areas, there can be 1,000 to 2,000 people on waiting lists, and they might be waiting for three to five years,” Jacobson said, “but we usually have about 350 to 500 people and they’re rarely on it for more than a year or two.

“I don’t know whether it would be worth it for someone to come here for that reason (a shorter waiting list), but we do serve some nonresidents,” she said.

If Virginians were being told to move to West Virginia to obtain HVC funding in a more expedient manner, Jacobson said she was unaware of such advice.

“I hadn’t heard that,” Jacobson said. “Our waiting list is full, so I’m not sure that would be very good advice.”

Nonresidents make up only 2 to 3 percent of the families that RCHA delivers Section 8 vouchers to each year, Jacobson said. They’re usually people born in the Mountain State who once moved away and are looking to get back to their West Virginia roots, or families from other states aiming to get a fresh start, she said.

Locally, the administrative fee the RCHA receives from HUD to operate the voucher program was cut by 31 percent because of sequestration. That slice has led to partial and seasonal staff furloughs and the closing of the office to the public every Friday, Jacobson said.

And although RCHA’s share of housing assistance payments was cut by 6 percent, that hasn’t translated into less rent money for the approximately 600 families in the five counties RCHA serves – Randolph, Tucker, Barbour, Lewis and Pendleton.

“On the housing assistance side, we’re not pulling anyone off the waiting list,” she said, noting that there are about 350 people currently waiting for housing assistance vouchers. “We’ve frozen the vouchers in the sense that we’re not allowing anyone to move to a unit that is more expensive than the one they’re in.”

The HCV program was intended to “deconcentrate” poverty, Jacobson said, and the vouchers make up the difference between what low-income families can afford to pay in rent and what a landlord charges.

“The idea is to provide rental assistance in a way that lets the people who make up the households decide where they want to live,” she added. “We distribute $2 million a year to landlords in the counties we serve.”

Lisa Wolfe, a Region III public affairs officer with HUD, said the question of whether people are moving from urban areas of Virginia to rural regions of West Virginia is one that’s not easily discernable.

“There’s a lot of arms and legs about this,” Wolfe told The Inter-Mountain Friday. Wolfe said since the HVC program is a federal one, people aren’t able to double their chances of getting into housing – and off a waiting list – more quickly by signing up in more than one location.

“Typically, someone applies (for Housing Choice Voucher program) where they live, and they’re not able to apply in multiple states.”