New H.P.D. boss plans meeting with Congress on Section 8 cuts

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  The new head of the city agency that runs the Section 8 housing program is planning a trip to Washington, where she will tell lawmakers about the devastating impact the federal budget crisis has had on the low-income housing subsidies.

Huge cuts to Section 8 came as a result of the federal sequester, which went into effect earlier this year and chopped around $85 billion off the nation’s budget.

A representative of the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development told this newspaper on Oct. 31 that H.P.D. Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas, who was appointed in September, will travel to the nation’s capital sometime within the next several weeks, and that Section 8 will be a major part of her discussions there.

The sequester forced H.P.D. to take a budget cut of around $35 million for 2013, and the department estimates that it will face a budget deficit of around $40 million in 2014 if Congress doesn’t agree on a way to solve the budget crisis.

So starting in July, H.P.D. scaled down the Section 8 voucher program, which provides 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.

Matthew Wambua, the previous H.P.D. boss, called that policy change “the best option in a bad situation,” following its implementation. 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.

During an Oct. 30 press conference at which she announced an allocation of federal disaster relief funding to a Lower East Side housing complex that was damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Visnauskas alluded to her focus on the problems associated with sequester cuts.

“We’re going to need the support of [members of Congress] as we work our way through this ongoing federal budget crisis that’s affected so many of our federal housing programs and social services,” she said.

Congressmember Jerrold Nadler, who has consistently condemned the social services cuts brought on by the sequester, while also urging H.P.D. to consider other option besides its current policy changes, said he “looks forward to” Visnauskas’ visit.

Around 10 percent of Manhattan residents who receive Section 8 subsidies live in the East Village or Lower East Side, according to statistics provided by an H.P.D. official and data published on the agency’s Web site.

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