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Government shutdown could have long-term impact on Allegheny County's housing choice voucher program

Written by Virginia Alvino Young/WESA | Jan 22, 2019 9:20 AM
Pittsburgh Hill District.jpg

Pittsburgh's Hill District has several units of Section 8 housing. (Jake Savitz/WESA)

If it continues until March, the partial government shutdown could have a big impact on Allegheny County's Housing Choice Voucher Program, commonly called Section 8.

About 2,000 private landlords countywide receive federally funded vouchers to subsidize the rent of tenants through the program. Those tenants are low-income, elderly or disabled.

Allegheny County Housing Authority disperses funds for the program directly to landlords. Housing Authority executive director Frank Aggazio notified landlords that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, will run out of money for those subsidy payments come March 1.

"The only thing we can provide is information," said Aggazio. "We don't have the $2 and a half to 3 million that passes through each month that pays the landlords."

While that could mean landlords do not have the funds for mortgage and tax payments, in some cases, tenants could face consequences, including potential late fees or eviction.

"A shutdown further exasperates a difficult process that's hard enough to navigate despite a shutdown," said Megan Confer-Hammond, COO of the Fair Housing Project. "It's already almost impossible."

Confer-Hammond said those who qualify for vouchers are already among the most vulnerable population. Due to the shutdown, those individuals may be experiencing a threat to their SNAP, or food stamp benefits, or cash assistance. And dealing with a complicated legal process to address funding their rent is an additional burden.

Even if the government shutdown does end before housing voucher payments are suspended, there can be long-term impacts on the program.

The Housing Voucher program is entirely voluntary for landlords, and it can be difficult to convince them to accept vouchers in the first place. Outreach efforts largely focus on the security and predictability of payments by the government. Even if a tenant were unable to pay their rent, landlords would still receive a percentage of the rent through the Housing Authority.

"This is putting that outreach into the danger zone," said Confer-Hammond, who added that in Allegheny County, relatively few vouchers are being utilized.

The Allegheny County Housing Authority is urging people to reach out to Congress and encourage an end to the partial government shutdown.

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