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Occupancy standards tightened for housing aid

Thu., Feb. 2, 2012, midnight

More people per room prevents outright cuts

Changes to the Spokane Housing Authority’s housing voucher program could make for some tight living arrangements. Because of budget cuts, the agency is implementing new occupancy standards and will pay rent based on one bedroom for every two people in a home in an effort to continue to serve all clients receiving housing assistance.

“If you have a family of four, you would have a two-bedroom unit,” Executive Director Steve Cervantes said. “In the past, they would have been eligible for a three-bedroom unit.”

For some, the change could result in living arrangements uncommon in American society.

Single mother Tina Reynolds hopes to find a way to stay in her home – she’ll almost be done with school when her lease is up in November and hopes to find a job then – but she may have to share a one-bedroom apartment with her teenage son.

“I get that it’s better than being on the street, but you take a mom with a 13-year-old boy and you put them in a one-bedroom? I think it’s crossing a lot of boundaries with relationships,” said Reynolds, who says she became disabled after being rear-ended in a 2008 crash. “That’s my big thing. I just think it’s inappropriate.”

The agency has sustained budget cuts of $2.2 million dollars for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program in the last six months, according to Cervantes. In November, Congress trimmed $650 million from the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program nationwide.

The Spokane Housing Authority’s voucher program budget is about $20 million per year. The housing authority contracts with landlords to pay a portion of rent for low-income households.

Under the new standards, clients will have the option to have one person per room, but they will have to pay more to make up the difference. For many cash-strapped clients, that won’t be an option.

In the five-county area served by the Spokane Housing Authority, there are more than 4,740 low-income households receiving rental assistance, according to the agency. Up to 40 percent of those receiving assistance could be affected by the new occupancy standards, which go into effect April 1, Cervantes said.

“We would love to be able to have the luxury of providing the same as we had been and have the same funding we used to have,” he said. “We don’t have that luxury any longer. Given the limited funding we have, we’re trying to spread it so we don’t have to terminate clients.”

If the current policy went unchanged, 600 households could have lost funding, he said.

“We didn’t want to have to make that choice,” Cervantes said. “So that’s why we did everything else we could to be able to find ways to reduce costs.”

Those who live alone will not be affected. There was a 45-day public input period prior to making the decision. Cervantes said the change has been policy at many other housing authorities around the nation for years.

“These are tough times,” he said. “Hopefully it’s not permanent.”

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