Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 21, 2013

Section 8 cuts feared in Traverse City

BY GLENN PUIT gpuit@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Ryan Volz lives on $710 a month.

He’s been hobbled for years by mental health and physical problems, and doles out his entire monthly Social Security check to pay bills. But Volz, 32, still manages to keep a quality apartment off Garfield Road, thanks to a federally funded housing voucher issued by the Traverse City Housing Commission.

He pays close to $200 a month for what’s normally a $600 per-month apartment.

“If it weren’t for (the voucher) I’d be out on the street, homeless and lose everything,” Volz said.

His days of receiving Section 8 housing may be numbered because of imminent sequester budget cuts in Washington, D.C. Last week, the Traverse City Housing Commission sent a letter to Section 8 recipients and their landlords to inform them cuts are likely.

“Pure fear,” Volz said of receiving the letter. “Scared out of my mind.”

Section 8 funds are monies allocated by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for rental housing for low-income families. The program is expected to be targeted as part of the government’s $85 billion in sequester cuts.

However, there was some indication Wednesday that the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives were on the verge of a legislative compromise to help ease the pain of those cuts. The Senate on Wednesday passed legislation to soften the blow of the deficit cutbacks and the House was expected to follow suit, although it was not immediately clear if Section 8 housing cuts would be spared in the legislation.

Housing Commission Executive Director Ilah Honson said she’s received multiple calls from concerned recipients.

“We do not know how much money we are going to lose yet,” Honson said. “We won’t know that until the end of March, but we are giving all our landlords and participants a heads up, that this is something that could be happening very soon.”

There are 179 households in the Grand Traverse region whose heads receive Section 8 housing vouchers from the Housing Commission. The commission spends roughly $85,000 in Section 8 money monthly.

Honson said public housing cuts are likely, as well. She expects the impact on public housing recipients will be less dramatic because the commission can dip into its financial reserves if necessary.

“We have about 300 families overall who are going to feel a pinch, some more so than others,” Honson said. “Our public housing residents are not going to feel the cuts like our Section 8 participants.”

Melodie Linebaugh, homeless programs manager for the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency, said she’s also fielded calls this week from frightened people who receive Section 8 vouchers.

“They were panicked,” Linebaugh said. “One person got served at 3 a.m. ... they interpreted it as if they were going to lose their housing.”

Linebaugh said if Section 8 vouchers are scaled back, “the number of homeless people or people at risk of homelessness will increase. There’s no doubt about it.”

Landlords are also concerned. Geoff Robinson is a property manager for KMG Prestige and oversees 12 different apartment complexes in the Grand Traverse region. He said cuts could affect roughly 10 households out of 80 at Boardman Lake Apartments.

“It’s going to be extremely hard for them to pay their full rental rate without the assistance,” Robinson said.

U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, whose congressional district includes the Traverse City area, said he supports spending cuts, but the way reductions are being enacted makes no sense to him. He said government bureaucracy should be trimmed before the neediest see reductions in benefits.

“I think the whole thing is ridiculous,” Benishek said. “I just think there could have been much better planning. This has been going on since August 2011.”

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s office issued a written statement regarding the Section 8 cuts in Traverse City in which she said she’s “very concerned about the effect these cuts will have on middle-class families and Michigan’s economic recovery, which is why I voted for a balanced alternative that would have cut programs we don’t need while maintaining top priorities that are critical to Michigan.”

Sequester cuts are part of the Budget Control Act of 2011. The plan was to make cuts so drastic they would force a political compromise to address the federal deficit, but no deal was reached. The 2013 cuts scheduled to begin at the end of the month call for $42.7 billion to defense, $28.7 billion in domestic discretionary cuts, $9.9 billion slashed from Medicare and $4 billion more to other programs.

Benishek said the House of Representatives passed legislation last week to attempt to address the sequester. That legislation is now in the Senate.

As for Volz, he’s contacting his legislators to express concern about his future.

“I called all of my senators -- that’s what we all need to be doing,” he said.