Garfield County housing authority ends rental assistance for families
August 5, 2009
GARFIELD COUNTY – Garfield County housing officials have announced they will no longer be helping 76 local families make their rent payments as of Sept. 30, due to cutbacks in federal funding.
“We are not a county program,” said Geneva Powell, head of the Garfield County Housing Authority, which hands out $178,000 per month that comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “This is a federal program, with federal funds.”
But after this summer, she said, her office will be getting $52,000 less per month from HUD, a fate that she said is affecting housing authorities across the nation as a result of the recession.
The money is for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, designed to help families earning less than half of the area median income, which for a family of four in Garfield County is $35,700.
The county housing authority has been providing rent assistance since it was formed in 1985, and in 2008 helped 364 families per month and paid out more than $2 million to area landlords from Carbondale to Parachute. So far in 2009, Powell’s office has helped 387 families per month, to the tune of more than $1.6 million in assistance, she said.
The families pay up to 30 percent of the monthly rent, Powell said, and the average amount paid to each family has been $612 per month.
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The agency sent out letters to the 76 families and 44 landlords on July 30, after picking the names at random.
Asked to predict what the families will do, Powell said simply, “I don’t know. Some may leave the valley, find extra work to pay their rent, live with other family members, or possibly be homeless.”
“We have had strong support from Rep. Salazar and Sen. Bennet assisting us in our efforts to obtain additional funding,” said a recent statement describing the situation. “A recent announcement from HUD states that no additional funding has been allocated to Garfield County for this program.”
And although her office has been looking around for new sources of revenue to help people meet their rent, Powell said, “Right now … we have no real hope of additional funding.”
She said that her office has been trimming costs administratively in order to keep money in the coffers for rent assistance.
“We’re squeezing that money out so we can give our families 60 days’ notice, instead of 30 days,” Powell said. “Thirty days is all that is required.”
The money has mainly come from the office’s standing reserves, which are built into the budget for emergencies.
“We felt this was more important than a rainy-day fund,” she said.
The Garfield County commissioners are aware of the situation, Powell said, but are not likely to be able to help. She said it may well be that the program’s funding will not recover from these cuts and will stay frozen at its new level of service.
But she will continue to seek out alternative funding sources, declaring, “We will never stop.”
Anyone with questions or comments can direct them to Geneva Powell at (970) 625-3589 or http://www.garfieldhousing.com.