TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse City Housing Commission officials’ efforts to get a leg up on anticipated financial cuts may have spurred deeper-than-necessary reductions to a federal rent assistance program for needy families.
Housing officials assumed the 2013 federal 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 federal sequester called for across-the-board, 6 percent cuts, but by the end of 2013 Traverse City’s Housing Commission had reduced the number of vouchers by about 35, or 16 percent, nearly triple the initial anticipated loss.
Record numbers of people flooded area homeless shelters this winter and heating bills are stressing low-income families, 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. “Obviously, it is a big concern for us, as it is for everyone in our community that is homeless and looking for housing.”
Ilah Honson, the housing commission’s executive director, said the agency stopped reissuing vouchers that became available when families left the program at the end of 2012. Officials were concerned they might have to cut off some clients if the federal rollback went deeper than 6 percent. She said U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials provided little guidance, and there was no guarantee cuts would stop at 6 percent.
She called the voucher reduction strategy a success.
“We were able to house the families that we did house and not have to remove anybody from the program,” she said.
Not much to live on
Jacqueline Nagy maintained her voucher from the Housing Commission, but saw her payment jump from 40 percent of her income to 47 percent, thanks to the funding cutbacks.