Housing authority OKs $58 million budget

Rental assistance program could tap reserves for expected deficit

By Patty Hastings, Columbian Social Services, Demographics, Faith

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Vancouver Housing Authority’s $58 million 2018 budget was approved Thursday during its board of directors meeting. The budget was finessed during a workshop last month to account for an expected shortfall in the Section 8 program, which provides rental assistance.

Slightly less than half of the agency’s budget comes from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, primarily for Section 8 housing vouchers. About $22.6 million is budgeted for housing assistance payments, the agency’s largest expense. With rising rents, rental assistance vouchers are increasingly costly as the housing authority fills the gap between tenant contributions and the full rent amount.

As a cost stabilization measure, the housing authority — with HUD’s permission — decided to increase tenant contribution from 33 percent to 35 percent, starting in 2018. This increase in tenant contributions is being done at housing authorities around the country and could possibly become a new standard. The housing authority estimates $28 million in rent and lease revenue for 2018, compared to $26 million this year.

Despite this measure, the Vancouver Housing Authority expects to dip into reserves and use one-time federal grants of $900,000 to cover 2018’s program shortfall of about $1 million. About 2,800 households receive rental assistance through Section 8, which is part of the Moving to Work program. The agency stopped issuing new vouchers and is reducing its number of vouchers through attrition.

Although the actual level of federal funding may not be known until midway through 2018, it’s assumed that funding will be at 2017 levels.

“The problem with HUD funding is not that it’s going up or going down, it’s uncertainty,” said Mila Fabyanchuk, the housing authority’s financial analyst.

If cuts are deeper, the budget could be amended and programs reduced.

As part of the 2018 budget, the housing authority is putting more money in reserves to go toward repair projects for its aging properties.

“With our properties, we’re trying to look ahead and see what our needs will be over a 20-year period of time,” said Steve Towell, spokesman for the agency.

Vancouver Housing Authority was awarded funding for housing construction projects through the city’s Affordable Housing Fund. The agency has also submitted its application to the city for rental assistance money, which would go toward people on its Section 8 wait list.