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Rent assistance program cut back

CHRISTINE McMANUSsummit daily news
Summit Daily/Reid Williams"I draw the line at politics and religion," said Villa Sierra Madre Apartments manager Linda Ravia, but an impending freeze in "Section 8" housing assistance prompted her to write a letter to President George W. Bush.
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SUMMIT COUNTY – The 115 households waiting for federal housing assistance can forget about it.The Summit Housing Authority has torn up its waiting list for Section 8 rental assistance because federal authorities have frozen spending.The national Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 rental assistance program subsidizes 49 households in Summit, Park and Clear Creek counties. The program helps the nation’s poorest households spend a maximum of 30 percent of their income on rent.For someone who makes $10 per hour after taxes, one-third of their monthly income would be $480. The average rent among one, two and three bedroom apartments in Summit County costs nearly twice that, at $833 per month, according to the Colorado Division of Housing.Beginning this week, the Colorado arm of HUD will no longer issue rent vouchers to new clients.

The 49 recipients will keep their rental subsidies for now. Recipients include lower income workers and families, seniors and people with disabilities.But the waiting list of 115 households in the High Country will be tossed this week, said Eileen Friedman, a Section 8 program director for the Summit Housing Authority, which managed the program in the region. Some of the people on the list have been waiting several years for help in making ends meet in the resort communities.On Monday, Friedman faced one of the hardest days in her job at the housing authority. She had to draft a letter to the 115 households, telling them federal officials ordered her to abandon those on the list.”I’ve been working for a long time to get these people assistance,” Friedman said. “Now there’s no chance they’ll get help.”But more and more people nationwide have been asking for help paying rent the past few years, said Linda Camblin, director of the Denver Office of Public Housing for HUD. Assistance levels were increasing at a rate faster than rent prices overall nationally, she said.

When Congress reviewed the $12.9 billion budget for housing assistance this spring, the legislators voted to keep rent subsidies at August 2003 levels in fiscal year 2004, Camblin said.At Silverthorne’s Villa Sierra Madre Apartments, property manager Linda Ravia recently wrote a letter to President Bush and Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell to protest the funding freeze.”Without assistance, many families could not afford to live in this county or anywhere,” Ravia told the president. “Some people say it’s the president’s fault, but I know in my heart that you would want to take care of poor or single parents … the backbones of America.”Ravia has not heard back from Bush or Campbell.Not only did HUD freeze all new vouchers for housing assistance, it cut existing funding. The average subsidy in Colorado was reduced 2 percent from $565 per month to $553 per month, said Teresa Duran, a program manager for the Colorado Division of Housing. Renters will likely be required to make up the difference.As a result of the cuts, 50 fewer families in Colorado this summer will receive rental assistance, out of the 2,500 who are currently receiving subsidies.

At the state level, the Colorado Division of Housing will make up for losses gradually as the housing voucher recipients come off the program.”It’s unfortunate. There’s a need all across the state for affordable housing,” Duran said.Seniors and people with disabilities are particularly at risk, Ravia said.Camblin agreed and said the last thing HUD wants to do is cut assistance to needy families. She also said Congress had to slow the rapid growth of rental assistance.Christine McManus can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at cmcmanus@summitdaily.com.


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