The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

News

August 21, 2013

Hundreds of local families are locked out of housing aid

— LEWISBURG - Hundreds of local families are waiting for housing assistance, but federal funding problems mean no new applicants are receiving help.

And while congressional leaders say they are concerned about this vulnerable population, there is no indication yet how — or if — this matter is going to be solved.

The March 1 federal sequester hit the Northumberland County Housing Authority hard. The agency is out of Section 8 housing assistance funds and is using its reserve funds and some contingency funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Executive Director Edward Christiano.

To qualify for more contingency funds, the Housing Authority cannot grant any more leases for Section 8 housing through the end of the year, meaning the 400 people on the county’s growing wait list will be waiting for awhile, Christiano said.

And while the more than 400 people currently using Section 8 vouchers in Northumberland County are safe through the end of the year, if they leave the program, the county cannot replace them with someone from the waiting list, which grows daily, Christiano said.

The Montour County Housing Authority isn’t having problems with the number of assistance vouchers available, but funding cuts have hurt the agency’s ability to run the Section 8 program, Executive Director Brett Jeffreys said.

“It’s like a double-edged sword with the funding,” he said. “It’s either a lack of funding to issue vouchers or a lack of funding to run the program.”

But like other housing authority directors, Jeffreys noted it’s a problem in every county across the state, thanks to situations like the sequester, which he said concerns him greatly.

Statewide problem

“There’s a lot of vulnerable people that need adequate housing,” he said. “And our congressional leaders, both our House and Senate members, cannot make up their minds.”

Christiano said the housing authority has reached out to local lawmakers through its national and state affiliates, but hasn’t heard back from anyone. “I’m sure they’re well aware about all the domestic programs being cut,” he said.

Rep. Tom Marino, R-10 of Cogan Station, said he knows the need for housing assistance and Section 8 availability is critical, especially with the economy still struggling

“It is unfortunate that waiting lists are nothing new to these assistance programs, as there are so many of our society’s most vulnerable citizens in need,” he said.

Last month, the Appropriations Committee, on which Marino sits, passed funding for the fiscal year 2014 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill. This will ensure families currently served will continue to receive housing assistance as well as veterans, the disabled and the elderly, Marino said.

“As we continue to fund and operate these essential safety net programs, we must also focus on enacting pro-growth, pro-job creation legislation, to help get as many people as we can back to work and thriving,” he said.

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