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Housing Voucher Cut Could Hit Hard

Study Says Bush's Plan Risks Shortfalls

By Nancy Trejos
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 6, 2005; Page C01

Montgomery County could face an almost $16 million shortfall in its subsidized housing voucher program by 2010, more than any Washington suburb, under cuts proposed by the Bush administration, according to a national study.

County officials said they don't have to wait for 2010 to feel the effect: 10,000 residents are on a waiting list for vouchers, and the agency that administers the program is struggling to subsidize the rents of the 5,347 elderly, disabled and poor residents who are enrolled. The budget for this year is $58 million.

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"We just barely have enough," said Joy Flood, acting director of rental assistance for the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission. "I don't expect new money to support new people next year. We're just trying to figure out how to make the current dollars work."

Housing authorities throughout the region are stretching their federal dollars to make up the growing difference between rents and what families can afford. Some jurisdictions have placed a freeze on new vouchers or increased tenants' share of the rent to more than 30 percent of their monthly income. Others have set or changed minimum tenant contributions.

"I'm working with the poorest of the poor," Flood said. "The impact might be huge."

While Montgomery would be the suburb most affected by cuts, the District could end up with less funding than it needs to run its program -- about $28 million by 2010, according to the study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington-based liberal nonprofit research organization. About 10,000 people in the District receive vouchers, but 42,000 are on the waiting list.

The center based its predictions on the Bush administration's proposed budget for housing assistance initiatives, which include the housing vouchers and other programs.

Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which oversees the voucher program, known as Section 8, said it is too soon to predict budget cuts.

They said the situation is not as dire as the center and local housing authorities have portrayed.

This year, funding for the program increased about $300 million nationwide, and the agency has requested a $1 billion increase for 2006, said Michael Liu, assistant secretary for HUD's Office of Public and Indian Housing.

If the request is approved, the voucher program will take up more than half of HUD's budget next year, Liu said.

"That's tremendous growth," Liu said. "If you compare that to any other domestic program, you won't see that."

Several local housing authorities, including Montgomery, have had increases in their federal money in the past year, HUD officials said.

According to the study, 370,000 of the 2 million people nationwide who receive vouchers could lose them by 2010 if funding isn't dramatically increased to keep up with rising rents.

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