Housing agency surviving sequestration so far

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South Metro Housing Options is doing its best to keep its clients from feeling the effects of federal sequestration.

“At this point, we’re not going to be cutting or reducing anybody for the foreseeable next two years,” said Dan Burnham, executive director of the housing assistance agency.

The sequestration meant mandatory, massive and across-the-board cuts at the federal level, designed to force the U.S. Congress to find a way to slash the country’s deficit. When that didn’t happen, the cuts went into effect — half to the military, half to all other discretionary expenses like housing and food assistance, education and transportation.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, its Section 8 voucher funding was slashed by $500 million, and it will have to cut 5 percent out of nearly all its programs.

SMHO administers Section 8 and other HUD programs in Littleton and throughout Arapahoe County. Burnham said HUD funded his office 8 percent less in 2013 than in 2012. The cuts are mostly to capital funding, he said, so won’t directly affect client benefits.

“The good news for us is our units are in really good condition,” he said.

When cuts to services are necessary, they will happen by not issuing new vouchers rather than by cutting off current clients, he said.

“We’ll kind of reshuffle and still be able to do everything we need to do,” he said.

But there has been an increased housing need since the start of the recession, and wait lists have been closed for a year and a half. And as people coming out of foreclosures opted to rent, units became more scarce and prices went up, notes Burnham, making it harder for SMHO clients to find housing.

“As people lost their homes, they probably never thought they’d have to apply for assistance,” he said.

The feds made some drastic cutbacks at the same time the housing bubble was bursting, and SMHO had to kick some people off its rolls for the only time in Burnham’s 34-year tenure. He said no elderly or disabled clients were affected, just the people who had been receiving assistance the longest.

HUD estimates that as a result of sequestration, 125,000 individuals and families will lose assistance, more than half of whom are elderly or disabled.

“The sequestration of federally funded housing and community development programs will severely impact the provision of safe, decent and affordable housing and necessary supportive services, and the development and recovery of vibrant communities,” the National Alliance to End Homelessness writes on its website.