Traverse City Record-Eagle

Opinion

March 12, 2014

Editorial: Housing Commission overdoes cuts in reaction to sequester

It’s not often a local government faces criticism for being too conservative with public money or going too far in limiting spending.

But as in all things there must be a practical balance that includes reaching the public policy goals the organization is created to achieve while properly husbanding public funds.

The Traverse City Housing Commission exists to help provide housing to low-income and disabled individuals, and public money is set aside to do just that. While saving money is a laudable goal, not spending money budgeted — and available — for needed services is missing the point.

In an effort to stay ahead of financial cuts anticipated as part of the federal sequester last year, Traverse City Housing Commission officials apparently made deeper cuts than necessary in a federal rent assistance program for needy families.

Housing officials correctly assumed the 2013 sequester would result in a funding loss for Housing Choice Vouchers, the most common form of federal rental assistance for extremely and very low-income households. The sequester called for across-the-board, 6 percent cuts, but by the end of 2013 the Housing Commission had reduced the number of vouchers by about 35, or 16 percent, nearly three times the amount expected to be cut.

By an unfortunate coincidence, record numbers of people flooded area homeless shelters this bone-chilling winter and heating bills have soared, making this one of the worst times to have lost housing assistance, representatives for area nonprofits said.

“We are only seeing the number of homeless go up, so we need more vouchers, not less,” said Leah Bagdon McCallum, director of development for Goodwill Industries of Northern Michigan.

The Housing Commission stopped reissuing vouchers that became available when families left the program at the end of 2012, based on concerns the agency might have to cut off some clients if the federal rollback went deeper than 6 percent.

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