Housing authorities brace for less money


Members of the Florida Association of Housing and Re-development Organizations listen to the Executive Director of the National Association of Housing and Re-development Saul Ramez on a speaker phone at a conference that was held on Tuesday at the University Hotel and Conference Center to discuss cut backs.

TRISTAN MAHER/ Special to The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 15, 2003 at 12:39 a.m.
Faced with a warning from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that their 2003 operating budgets could be cut by 30 percent, executive directors of Florida's public housing authorities met Tuesday in Gainesville to plan a statewide response.
"Any dollar we spend in the community has a sevenfold impact," Saul Ramirez of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Organizations told the group by phone. "And any dollar that we have to cut is going to have that same multiplier effect."
As a result, Ramirez warned, "You take away the last glimmer of hope from those who need it most."
HUD issued letters nationwide last week to its 3,200 housing authorities, warning that they could face a 30 percent budget cut to make up for last year's $250 million shortfall.
Agencies with a budget year that started Jan. 1 would be the most immediately affected. The reductions would represent the largest cut ever in federal funds for public housing.
"The department has taken this necessary action to avoid a funding shortfall," U.S. HUD Assistant Secretary Michael Liu said Tuesday. "In the short term, this will require belt-tightening on all of our behalf, but in the long term we will gain a better system to meet the funding requirements of public housing agencies."
The federal agency indicated it would "re-evaluate and establish appropriate funding levels after the department's budget for the fiscal year 2003 is finalized."
Ramirez said there was no formal statement from HUD that they would retroactively restore agencies' whole budget if the shortfall was less than projected.
"They are asking agencies to tap into their own reserves. Agencies will have to make dramatic cuts in their work forces, maintenance and other budget items, and many will have to raise rents to meet the budget," he said.
Ramirez contends that the federal agency has mismanaged funds destined for housing authorities across the country.
"This is the equivalent of an Enron meltdown," he said. "The line has been drawn, and the impact will be felt throughout our communities."
Locally, agencies are already looking at places to trim operating expenses.
Gail Monahan is executive director of the Alachua County Housing Authority, which operates 276 public housing units. She said the HUD cuts would mean $120,000 less in the operating budget for the agency.
Bill Cochran, director of the Gainesville Housing Authority, put the cuts at $450,000 for his agency.
"We won't close our doors, but we will have to draw on reserves we've built up over the years," Cochran said. "Then, if push comes to shove, we'll make some difficult decisions."
Those decisions could include cuts in employee training, travel, capital improvements for housing units (most of which were built in 1968 or 1969), tenant service programs, even the number of phone lines coming into the agency's offices.
Jerome Ryans, whose Tampa housing authority maintains about 8,500 people in 23 complexes, warned that agencies "cannot continue to operate under the same regulatory environment and also do more with less."
Suggestions from the group ranged from notifying city and county leaders throughout the state about what housing authorities were facing, to filing suit against HUD.
Bob Lambert, executive director of the Titusville housing authority, said, "It may take dumping the keys from all our housing units on the Capitol steps to galvanize public interest in this problem."
Added Ryans, "As housing authority directors, we have to recognize that for a proportion of the population, if we are not there, they will not be served."
Diane Chun can be reached at 374-5041 or chund@ gvillesun.com.

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