BRATTLEBORO -- The Brattleboro Housing Authority is letting its Section 8 tenants know that recent federal budget cuts will likely force a decrease in the monthly housing aid they receive.
BHA sent out a letter to its tenants last week explaining that cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development caused by the sequester will reduce the payment standard for all tenants to 90 percent of the fair market rent.
The amount of money each Section 8 tenant receives to help pay for rent varies depending on income, the rent payment, and other factors, and BHA Executive Director Chris Hart said the impact will vary from tenant to tenant.
Still, Hart said, with federal payments coming into BHA expected to take a hit following sequestration, the organization has few other options but to make the reductions.
"This is a very big deal, and it is not something we are taking lightly," said Hart. "We will be receiving less, and this is real money. It's very serious."
Since Congress earlier this year failed to stave off the sequester, which slashed $85.4 billion from the federal budget, Hart says she and her board have been trying to figure out how they would be able to bridge the gap between what they need to pay and how much money that will be coming in from Washington.
There are nine housing authorities in Vermont and Jo Ann Troiano, who is executive director of the Montpelier Housing Authority and chairwoman of the Vermont Association for Public Housing Directors, says each group is doing what it can to make the cuts as painless on its tenants as possible.
Housing authority directors have been facing cuts over the past few years, and making due with less, but she said the recent cuts came swiftly.
"You just can't make changes like this on a dime," she said. "For some of us sequestration was the straw that broke the camel's back."
There are about 6,800 Section 8 vouchers in Vermont.
She said while Congress was debating the sequestration everyone assumed lawmakers would be able to work out their differences, and no one thought the cuts would really happen.
When the cuts to HUD were announced Troiano said the directors were forced to take a hard look at their books.
"It's frustrating. There was a feeling that Congress really couldn't be that stupid," she said. "But these days they can't even agree that motherhood and apple pie are good any more."
According to federal regulations, BHA has to ask for a waiver to reduce the monthly payments. Without the waiver BHA would have to wait for a year before enacting those cuts.
BHA is asking for that waiver.
If HUD does not approve the waiver then BHA will be forced to terminate tenants from the voucher program.
Hart said that while the cuts are real, and BHA has to make tough choices, no one will be kicked out of their apartment and turned out to the street.
"The truth is that these cuts are real. They are happening now and we don't have a year to wait," said Hart.
Housing authorities all over the country are dealing with the same challenge, but Hart said smaller organizations like BHA are having a much harder time making up the difference.
Larger urban housing authorities can cut payroll, but BHA has already reduced its Section 8 staff to one-and-one-half people.
And in larger urban centers turnover can sometimes number in the dozens, or even hundreds each month, and the authorities can save money by simply not turn the vouchers over when someone moves out.
But in Brattleboro Hart says there are fewer options to make up the lost federal money
The waiting list in Brattleboro is so long that BHA closed it recently so there are not a lot of people coming off the Section 8 program.
The last time Hart issued a new Section 8 voucher it was to a person who applied for it in 2006.
"For an organization like us there is really no where else we can go," Hart said. "
BHA has 187 federal Section 8 vouchers, which help low income tenants make rent payments each month.
But past federal cuts have already forced BHA to only support about 145 because there is not enough money to support the full load.
Hart also said low income residents are already seeing reductions to their child care, and rising oil costs squeeze tenants, or landlords, making it even harder to make ends meet each month.
"We have to make sure we have the money we need to pay the landlords," Hart said.
The BHA board is looking closely at its finances and Hart says the group probably has money to make it through October or November without making the reductions.
"We're looking closely and really digging down deep," said Hart. "We know these letters caused people to panic and get upset. It's not going to happen tomorrow, but we want them to know what we are facing, and put everyone on notice to what we are facing."
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.