By KEVIN HERRERA, Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES _ The county Board of Supervisors Tuesday unanimously approved major changes to the Section 8 housing assistance program that will force thousands of families to pay more in rent each month and restrict the neighborhoods to which they can relocate.
The reforms are part of an effort by the county's Housing Authority to remain solvent while still providing rental assistance in the wake of a $3.7-million reduction in funding by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), said the executive director of the Housing Authority, Carlos Jackson, in a letter to the board dated Tuesday.
In the letter, Jackson recommended that the board approve six changes to the authority's current Administrative Plan, which was approved by the board last April 6. The Administrative Plan, which determines local policies for the administration of Section 8, is required by HUD.
"The Housing Authority's primary concern is the fiscal stability of the agency, which is critical to preserving the rental assistance program," Jackson wrote. "Also of great concern is minimizing the impact on the families receiving Section 8 assistance and the landlords who voluntarily participate in the program."
First, the authority proposed changing the payment standard from 100 percent of the fair market rent to 90 percent. By approving this, the monthly allowance for each tenant with rents higher than 90 percent will be reduced. The rent to landlords remains fixed.
Tenants will receive a notice of the proposed change shortly and have one year to adjust, which means it will take at least two years to fully implement the change in assistance.
The second reform has to do with a tenant's unit size, known as an occupancy standard. Currently the standards allow one bedroom for the head of the household and a bedroom for every two persons thereafter.
The changes to occupancy standards include two persons per bedroom including the head of the household. That will effect families at their next annual re-examination.
Third, the authority will suspend all new admission to the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which is intended to help families achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency through job training and education. The authority will honor current agreements.
A major change, one that has drawn the ire of housing advocates, is the limit on relocation.
After 12 months on the Section 8 Program, families are permitted to relocate anywhere in the United States. Traditionally, the new housing authority would absorb the cost or bill the originating housing authority.
Los Angeles County will now restrict movement to lower cost areas, unless the family can be absorbed.
"So, essentially they are going to victimize those who are least fortunate with the lowest income, and what this will end up doing is push people off the program," said Larry Gross, executive director of the Coalition For Economic Survival, which advocates for more affordable housing and social programs to help the homeless.
"That's their way of dealing with the reduction in funding, by making sure less people are able to receive vouchers in areas that are facing one of the greatest affordable housing shortages in the country," Gross said. "It sounds like they are going to further ghetto-ize Section 8 by forcing people to live in lower-income communities, undermining the whole purpose of if. The intent of Section 8 was to help integrate communities both on racial lines and economic lines. This approach is pretty shortsighted."
However, Gross said the county is not entirely to blame. He said Section 8 is being attacked at the federal level by the Bush administration.
Donna White, a spokesperson for HUD, said funding for Section 8 has increased this fiscal year, but some housing authorities may receive less because of their expenditures last year. If some authorities did not use up all of their funding last year, they will not receive as much this year, she said.
Congress also has put more restrictions on Section 8 because the program has grown considerably in cost over the last few years, now encompassing 50 percent of HUD's budget.
"Congress is trying out new ways to contain costs, but we are still serving [more than] 2 million families," White said. Congress has appropriated an extra $44 million for job training education and home ownership counseling, he added.
Calls to the county's Housing Authority for comment were not returned.
Other changes to the county's Section 8 Program include immediate re-examinations or adjustments in assistance once a tenant's income increases _ previously the authority had a choice to do the re-examination at the end of the year _ and tenants not already receiving child support will be required to register with the county Child Support Services Department to help obtain funding from the absent parent.
In addition to the cost-saving measures, the authority will modify the method by which utility allowance costs are determined, incorporating discount rates offered to low-income families by most utilities.
The authority has scheduled several owner and tenant workshops to discuss the above changes to the Administrative Plan. For a list of those meetings, call (323) 890-7001, or visit the county's Community Development Commission Web site, www.lacdc.org.