Brunswick Housing Authority strained by budget cuts, federal regulations; subsidized housing at risk

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BRUNSWICK — If the federal government doesn’t grant regulatory relief, the Brunswick Housing Authority may have to give up its Section 8 subsidized housing program.

“If they continue to cut the funds and I have to lay off another person, I’m not sure I could continue to do the Section 8,” Executive Director John Hodge said in an interview Monday.

Section 8 authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords on behalf of low-income households.

Hodge said the current mix of funding cuts and increased mandates is slowly undermining his ability to effectively administer Section 8 and public housing programs for Brunswick families.

Over time, budget cuts are also impeding the ability of the BHA to make needed building repairs, he said.

“The longer you defer repairs, the longer you could have a hazardous situation, which could lead to a safety situation for a resident,” Hodge said.

BHA has joined with 10 other housing authorities across the nation to ask the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development to allow exemptions from certain regulatory requirements they believe are unnecessary and burdensome.

“We need to look at these programs and make adjustments so that the programs still have integrity, and yet we need to get rid of some of the crazy regulations,” Hodge said.

Included among the “crazy” regulations is a requirement that BHA re-certify the income of its residents every year.

“About two-thirds of our residents are elderly or disabled, and their main source of income is Social Security,” Hodge  said. “There is no change. Yet, we still have to send them a letter, schedule a meeting, sit down with them for a face-to-face meeting, and do the paperwork.”

Hodge said that certifying the income of these residents every other year, rather than every year, would be more reasonable.

He also said that after cutting two staff members, the BHA can no longer afford to spend the time to let applicants know where they are on the waiting list, which is typically anywhere from three to nine months.

This can lead to problems when the wait-listed applicants are trying to make other living arrangements.

“It does make it difficult for them to plan, when they don’t know what their status is,” Hodge said. “We have less ability to provide them with the more personal services. We don’t have time to sit at the door and answer their questions.”

The uniform requirements of HUD ultimately result in less effective services for the residents who rely on the program for housing, he said.

For example, BHA’s single inspector performs about 1,000 housing unit inspections each year, regardless of the history of those units.

“We know who the good landlords are and who the bad landlords are,” Hodge said. “Yet we have to inspect the good as often as we have to inspect the bad. Wouldn’t it be better to inspect some of them twice a year, and some of them every other year?”

Less money

Hodge said the situation is coming to a head because of recent budget cuts.

“Over the last two years, we’ve received about a 25 percent decrease in funds in Section 8 administrative fees and in our capital fund budget, which is used for major repairs in our housing,” he said.

The result, Hodge said, is a lower staff-to-resident ratio that translates into less interaction with and attention paid to each individual.

“These cuts have certainly hurt our ability to do our work,” he said. “… There is a breaking point, and that’s one thing that we’re trying to articulate to Congress and to HUD.”

Hodge and a handful of housing authorities from around the country spent eight months developing a 22-page proposal with suggested changes they say could be implemented administratively, and without congressional approval.

Before submitting the proposal in March, they had it vetted by Ballard Spahr, a D.C.-based law firm, to ensure that what they are seeking is legal.

They have not received a response.

“I don’t even know for certain that they’ve received it,” Hodge said. “It was sent, I know that.”

“We expect that they’ll say, ‘this has some merit, let’s have a meeting,'” he said.

According to Hodge, 18 housing authorities across the nation have relinquished their Section 8 administrative functions. In these cases, HUD is forced to step in and administer the program.

Ironically, Hodge said, some of the budget squeezing will actually result in higher costs, not lower.

For example, he said he currently lacks the money needed to perform routine maintenance on BHA’s four public housing facilities.

“We have a backlog of physical needs that means that we have to put them off,” he said.

This robs the BHA of the chance to address little problems before they become big problems.

“They’ll be more expensive down the road,” Hodge predicted.

 Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @hh_matt.

Sidebar Elements

John Hodge, executive director of the Brunswick Housing Authority, one of 11 such agencies around the country seeking relief from federal regulatory burdens.