Mercer Island

Impending cuts threaten housing assistance for local families

SEATTLE - As many as 600 families throughout King County could be forced into homelessness if the federal government cannot reach a deal to keep sweeping budget cuts from taking effect, according to the King County Housing Authority.

"The longer this goes on, the more families will fall through the safety net," said Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority (KCHA), in a statement.

As agencies throughout the country prepare for sequestration, the King County Housing Authority says it has suspended issuing Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers to thousands of families on its waiting list as a way to cope with the loss of millions of dollars in federal funding.

"The Section 8 program serves a majority of people who are homeless or are on the verge of becoming homeless," said Rhonda Rosenberg, director of communications for KCHA. "This (Section 8 program) is the difference between living on the street versus living in safe and affordable housing."

KCHA says by not re-issuing returned housing vouchers from people who no longer need the assistance, between 45-50 families on the waiting list will not get housing help. Rosenberg said this will save the agency a little more than $6 million a year depending on how long sequestration continues.

"It may save money but the longer it goes on the fewer people we can serve," she said.

The Section 8 program provides housing vouchers to families, elderly and disabled residents to afford to rent private apartments. Voucher participates pay 30 percent of their income toward rent and KCHA then steps in to help pay for the rest. A person's eligibility for assistance depends on their income, the size of their family and where in the county they live. Rosenberg said an estimated 100 vouchers total nearly $1 million in federal support.

The last time KCHA opened up the waiting list for the Section 8 program, more than 25,000 people applied, according to Rosenberg.

While current voucher program participants are reportedly not in jeopardy of losing their housing, the KCHA's ability to help more families will be eliminated should the cuts occur. KCHA officials also said federal cuts will affect the Housing Authority's public housing program. Repairs to apartments will take longer to fix and could result in fewer construction jobs throughout King County.