Sequester forces big cuts in Section 8 housing program

BY SAM SPOKONY | Massive federal spending cuts stemming from the country’s 2011 budget crisis have had a devastating impact on social services in every state — and now many low-income New Yorkers who rely on housing subsidies are feeling the burn.

The infamous sequester, which went into effect earlier this year, cut around $85 billion from the nation’s budget.

As a result, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development was forced to take a budget cut of around $35 million for 2013. An H.P.D. spokesperson also said the department will likely face a budget deficit of $40 million in 2014, if Congress doesn’t agree on a way to end the sequester.

So starting in July, H.P.D. scaled down its Section 8 voucher program, which provides vital money for housing to around 30,000 low-income residents across the city. The agency asked some voucher holders to either pay a greater share of their rent or agree to relocate to a smaller apartment.

H.P.D. Commissioner Matthew Wambua called that policy change “the best option in a bad situation.” He said the department would have had to terminate nearly 3,000 vouchers — and 3,300 more in 2014 — if no cash-saving changes were made to the program.

But Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, whose district covers most of the West Side, including Greenwich Village and Soho, is leading a coalition of House members who want Wambua to consider other options before increasing the burden on impoverished families who, on average, earn only around $15,000 per year.

Nadler was joined by nine other New York representatives — including Carolyn Maloney and Nydia Velazquez, whose districts both include parts of the East Village and Lower East Side — in sending a Sept. 4 letter to the H.P.D. boss.

“Some families will [now] experience a significant increase in their monthly rent share, forcing them to choose between putting food on the table and paying their rent,” the letter reads.

“We urge H.P.D. to re-examine these changes and consider alternatives that minimize the impact on our most vulnerable families and ensure there are no evictions of people currently receiving Section 8 vouchers.”

In a Sept. 6 letter responding to the congressmembers, Wambua stood by the cuts, stating that the plan “was not undertaken lightly,” and was the result of a “thorough review of our budget and all options available.”

“It ensures that vouchers will not be rescinded this year and that no one group of voucher holders will bear the entire burden of the federal cuts,” Wambua wrote.

He did, however, also state that the department will assess the effectiveness of the new plan, in order to “explore, review and consider any other options that may be feasible.”

While there are currently only 10 Section 8 voucher holders within Community Board 2, there are 1,163 voucher holders in Community Board 3, according to an H.P.D. spokesperson. Around 10 percent of the Manhattan residents who qualify for Section 8 subsidies live in the East Village or Lower East Side, based on data on the department’s website.

Nadler and his colleagues seem poised to continue pressuring H.P.D. to restore Section 8 benefits.

“New Yorkers who need the most help should not be among the first to feel the impact of the sequestration cuts,” Nadler said.