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June 7, 2013: NHLP Provides Advocacy Tips Regarding Sequestration Impacts

Sequestration continues to impact the [HUD Section 8] voucher program participants and applicants. Advocates have been responding to the funding cuts in a number of ways, depending upon how their PHA [Public Housing Authority that administers the HUD program] responds to the cuts and how willing the PHA is to work with advocates and residents.

Many advocates are working with their PHAs to influence how the PHA responds and are asking key questions, such as what are the PHA’s reserves, what is the turnover rate for vouchers, is the PHA working with the local HUD office to review the PHA’s finances and what is the PHA doing to cut costs that may be less harmful to residents. Advocates have also sought policies that address the unintended consequences of policy changes. For example, advocates have urged PHAs to adopt a policy that the voucher will not be terminated if a tenant is evicted due to nonpayment of rent when the payment standard is decreased. NHLP has a chart on its website that lists some of the alternatives that PHAs may adopt.

All advocates should be working with their local PHA to urge the adoption of a local policy not to terminate any participant for lack of funds until the PHA has notified HUD and sought HUD’s approval to take the proposed action. HUD has $100 million to distribute to PHAs in 2013 to prevent terminations due to lack of funds. See HUD letter (April 26, 2013) regarding 2013 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Funding Shortfalls and Use of the Renewal Set-aside to Prevent Terminations Due to Insufficient Funding.

When faced with a harmful or illegal policy or a PHA’s action without transparency that would affect residents or the public, there are several things that advocates can do in response. The following responses have been taken with some success:

1. Notify national groups, such as NHLP, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) and the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC). These groups have brought the bad policies to the attention of HUD staff in DC with favorable results.

2. File an administrative complaint with HUD. See complaint filed by Lone Star Legal Aid (Houston/Galveston TX).

3. File a Public Records Act request to get information. Advocates in Los Angeles did this along with contacting NHLP and the PHA responded to the pressure and released the sought after waiver request, which HUD denied.

4. Talk to the media. See for example the attached articles from Connecticut and Utah, http://www.nbcconnecticut.com/investigations/LWRD--202445131.html
(quotes Jan Chiaretto of Connecticut Legal Services)
http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56106370-78/families-lake-salt-sequest...
(quotes Tim Funk of Community Housing Advocacy Project – Crossroads Urban Center)

5. Work with the local PHA to identify applicants on the PHA waiting list who have been affected by sequestration. Some PHAs have created and posted letters resident applicants and voucher landlords can use to praise the voucher program and to protest the cut backs. See http://www.hacsc.org/ (Click on “Sequestration what does it mean to you”). These letters can be modified, simplified and used by advocates.

6. Advocate for the adoption of policies that are least harmful to tenants and applicants. When adopting cost saving policies,ocal PHAs should do so in a manner that is least harmful to tenants and applicants. Transparency is critical. Specifically, the PHA ought to adopt a policy that it will not terminate any program participants due to lack of funding without first contacting HUD and seeking HUD’s approval.

It is important for advocates to work with others in the community to highlight how sequestration is affecting real people and make sure that the harm is not lost or diminished for lack of a publicity and attention. Please use the HJN list-serve or other avenues to let us, the national housing advocacy groups, know what is happening in your community and how the fiscal cuts are affecting voucher participants and applicants.

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