Federal cuts could squeeze 6.5K Columbia-area households in 2014

cleblanc@thestate.comJune 16, 2013 

— Cutbacks in federal assistance for public housing subsidies so far has had little impact on some 6,500 household in the immediate Columbia metropolitan area that receive the aid, housing officials said.

In some communities, including the Raleigharea, landlords for Section 8 housing are facing monthly cutbacks of up to $100. That might prompt some to evict families that can’t make up the difference.

The Columbia Housing Authority has absorbed the impact, largely from across-the-board federal cuts known as “sequestration,” by delaying maintenance at housing complexes and not extending the aid to new applicants, said Gil Walker, the authority’s director.

“We’ve been nipping into our reserves,” Walker said of $2 million his agency set aside from this year’s $10 million budget from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department in anticipation of belt-tightening from Washington.

“I can probably hang in until about the first of the year before I have to make some serious decisions,” Walker said. His contingency plan after Jan. 1 includes one-day-per-week furloughs for Housing Authority employees.

The Columbia agency provides federal aid to about 5,700 households in the city and Richland County, he said.

The S.C. State Housing Finance & Development Authority, which provides subsidies to seven, mostly rural, counties, is no longer extending the subsidies to new applicants for aid, said spokesman Clayton Ingram.

“The way we’re dealing with it is we’re not adding anyone,” Ingram said. “When people come off the program, we don’t replace them.”

Lexington County, with 870 households in the program, is the largest of the counties the state agency serves. Kershaw and Fairfield counties have 164 and 151 households in the program, respectively, he said. The remaining counties are not in the Midlands.

Federal aid for the state agency’s program was cut from $10.9 million last year to $10.6 million this year, Ingram said.

The head of Columbia’s HUD office would not detail the impact of the cutbacks. A HUD spokesman in Atlanta did not respond to a request Thursday for a phone interview.

Walker said he calculates that his agency’s money this year will be slashed by $1 million to $1.5 million.

The Columbia Housing Authority extends aid to 3,500 households in the Section 8 program, which extends rent payments to private owners of homes or apartments occupied by Housing Authority clients, Walker said. In addition, 2,200 households receive aid in public housing complexes.

More than 6,000 families are on a waiting list for assistance, he said. That’s about 1,000 more than three years ago.

“When people go off the program, we can’t bring people on who are on the waiting list,” Walker said.

Unlike the Raleigh area, evictions haven’t “happened here yet,” he said.

Steve Beam, the Raleigh and Wake County director, told the (Raleigh) News & Observer that cutting back on monthly payments was the least painful way to absorb a $1.6 million drop in federal funds.

“It’s a matter of which bad course do you take,” Beam told the newspaper. “I was not willing to make a decision to start kicking people off the program.”

Walker said landlords who reject cutbacks and evict tenants run the risk of losing the aid entirely if they cannot find someone to move in and make up the difference.

“Either they’ll have to go down on the money they’re receiving or go through evictions. But they may not find someone to go into those units,” Walker said.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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