Subsidized tenants got a rare reprieve on Wednesday, when the city announced that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had agreed to restore close to $55 million in local Section 8 funding, at risk since April. But housing experts caution that the voucher program is still far from safe. Some even question the timing of the feds’ announcement—right in the middle of the Republican National Convention.
“Maybe it was a coincidence,” quipped former HUD secretary Andrew Cuomo, part of a coalition that had threatened to sue over the cuts. “The ones that screamed the loudest and the ones that were the most politically sensitive got restored. New York screams the loudest. They’re having the Republican convention here. New York gets restored.”
HUD spokesperson Donna White said the timing wasn’t political. “We just wanted to respond [to local appeals] as soon as we could,” she said. She said the financing, which totals roughly $156 million nationwide, shouldn’t be considered a restoration since it’s actually “additional funding” under HUD’s new formula.
Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, who helped push for that “additional funding,” was quick to point out that not all housing authorities were as lucky as New York. While 379 of the 398 agencies that filed appeals got at least some of their funding restored, she said, others had already made internal policy changes and didn’t bother to apply.
Her group is still in the process of assessing the winners and losers nationally. “It’s breathtaking, the hypocrisy from the Bush administration,” she said, remarking on the president’s campaign promise to build seven million new homes for ownership. “You’re talking about creating new housing at the same time you’re dismantling the housing programs.”
While this year’s funds are now safe, the administration has proposed cuts to next year’s Section 8 funding, which could amount to an $86 million dollar loss for New York City, according to figures released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in March. Meanwhile, a new formula set to take effect in 2006 would cut the city’s $759 million public housing budget by $35 million.
Howard Marder, spokesperson for the New York City Housing Authority, said his agency could absorb the cut without hurting tenants by limiting agency expenses such as vehicle purchases and overtime.
Carol Abrams, spokesperson for the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development, was less sanguine about the future of Section 8. While public outcry and effective lobbying helped win this year’s battle, she said, her agency is still concerned about `05. “By no means will we stop talking to Washington,” she said, “and using our congressional representatives.”
Crowley plans to do the same, but said she is tired of fighting to reverse destructive federal policies. “It’s stunning the kind of decisions they make and how politically tone deaf they seem to be,” she said. “I really wish we could move on to something else.”