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Los Angeles Daily News

Sunday October 06, 2013

Uncertain Federal Funding Puts L.A.'s Section 8 Recipients on Edge

By Christina Villacorte, Los Angeles Daily News
Ana Townsend, a Section 8 voucher recipient, stands in the patio area of her building in Hollywood on Oct. 4, 2013. She worries about the impact the federal government's shutdown will have on the program.
(Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News)

To Ana Townsend, the halting of the federal government could mean the difference between having a place to stay and being turned out onto the streets.

"Jesus, I'm scared," said the former apartment manager, 59. "I don't have a place to go."

Regional housing authorities rely on the feds to subsidize the rent of about 88,000 local households through the Section 8 voucher program.

Because of the shutdown, which began Tuesday, funding is available only through the end of October.

"I have already exhausted my reserves because of sequestration (automatic spending cuts that began earlier this year)," said a frustrated Sean Rogan, executive director of the Housing Authority of the County of Los Angeles (HACoLA).

CES Tenant Leader Ana Townsend in her building lobby
used by The Eagles (right) for their 'Hotel California' album

"Now I have no money to make Section 8 payments on Nov. 1," he added. "It certainly could lead to landlords evicting Section 8 tenants, which are very low income families, seniors and the disabled."

Doug Guthrie, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA), warned of a possible spike in homelessness unless the shutdown ends by the final week of October - at the latest.

"It would be a complete disaster if those payments are not made in a timely fashion," he said. "It would be a catastrophe for a whole variety of reasons."

Lido Apts, Hollywood

Mike Alvidrez, executive director of the Skid Row Housing Trust, agreed. The potential loss of Section 8 funding, he said, would be an "absolute disaster" for the destitute and the disabled, who need it to keep a roof over their heads. "If the federal government can't issue their rent subsidies, that's a nightmare scenario."

Townsend has not been able to work since sustaining a leg injury in 2000. "The pain is unbearable," she said.

Without Section 8, she would not able to remain in her one-bedroom Hollywood apartment. The federal subsidy covers $899 of her rent, so she has to pay only $53.61 a month out of pocket. "I don't want to be homeless," Townsend said, clearly agitated. "I don't want to be just another statistic. (Congress) is supposed to work for the people, but they think only about themselves."

Larry Gross, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for Economic Survival, was particularly irate at Republicans in the House of Representatives, saying, "Their irresponsible actions are nothing less than un-American," he said.

CES Section 8 Tenant Ana Townsends May Face Eviction Due to Gov't Shutdown
(Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News)

HACoLA's Rogan is urging everyone to call or send letters to their congressional representatives: "Demand that Congress approve a budget either at or above existing levels, so that we don't have to worry about our most vulnerable populations becoming homeless."

Both Rogan and Guthrie said the shutdown, coupled with previous budget cuts and the sequester - which together slash five percent off their budgets every year for a decade - paints a dire picture.

"This is the lowest level of support in the history of the public-housing program," Guthrie said. "I haven't seen anything quite this bad.

"I understand battling over budgets, but to have a shutdown over something extraneous (health care reform) is the height of absurdity. Quite honestly, it's shameful."

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