Berkeley Housing Authority cuts vouchers due to sequester

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Due to March’s federal budget cuts, known as the sequester, Berkeley Housing Authority has cut 14 subsidized housing vouchers from low-income individuals while also suspending about 200 households in the final stages of applications.

On March 1, more than $85 billion in federal sequester cuts took effect, diminishing spending across many departments, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as its Section 8 voucher program, which supports local public housing agencies. Consequently, Berkeley Housing Authority is expecting an annual loss of about $1.7 million.

The Section 8 voucher program helps low-income families, the elderly and the disabled find affordable housing. Those who receive these vouchers pay rent amounts between 30 and 40 percent of their income. Berkeley Housing Authority currently gives rental assistance to 1,776 households in Berkeley and estimates that it will have to cut 76 households beginning in 2014.

According to Tia Ingram, executive director of Berkeley Housing Authority, some of the families facing cuts expressed minor angst, but most of them knew of the sequester beforehand.

“The only way to remain sane is to believe that these changes are temporary,” Ingram said. “I believe the S8 program (and housing authorities) will survive. It’s just a question of what the program will look like going forward.”

In the meantime, local nonprofit organizations may need to step in to manage the increasing demand for affordable housing and help residents who are facing eviction.

“We are just coming up with strategies,” said Janny Castillo, community builder at Building Opportunities for Self-Sufficiency, an organization that provides services for the homeless in Berkeley. “One of the things is collaboration between organizations so that we all know what we are doing.”

Castillo and others say the responsibility to fix these issues lies with the city.

“It is individually up to each city to prepare for the cuts,” said Lynda Carson, a writer for the Indybay who has previously covered the sequester. “They’ve been well aware of the cuts in progress for a long time.”

According to Eleanor Walden, a former member of the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Board, Berkeley Housing Authority has been slow in responding to community frustration over previous budget cuts.

“There have been a lot of citizen meetings about it,” Walden said. “There’s that path between trying to do something, reaching a stone wall and then becoming incredibly depressed and hopeless.”

According to a report in May by the California Association of Housing Authorities, California administers 350,000 vouchers, the largest number of Section 8 vouchers in the country.