Housing agency gets extra dollars for rental assistance

By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: August 06. 2007 5:00AM PST

Housing Works, the Redmond-based nonprofit that helps families obtain affordable housing, has unexpectedly received an extra $427,000 from the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The 8 percent increase in Housing Works’ annual allocation from HUD allowed the organization to issue housing vouchers to all 350 people who applied for one last month, said Keith Wooden, Housing Works’ director of housing.

The federal government caps the number of Section 8 vouchers — rental assistance for low-income families — that Housing Works can give out at 1,026 per year, Wooden said. But before the extra allocation, the organization’s funding would have allowed it to provide only about 940 vouchers this year.

“We were at the level where we were spending as much as our contract allowed and as people dropped out (of the program) we were able to issue more. And so when they gave us this extra money, we’re just putting it on the street where it’s supposed to go,” Wooden said. “With this extra money, we can actually fund all of them, so we’re playing a little catch-up and looking forward — hopefully they’ll adjust it like this again, maybe in January of next year.”

The vouchers are awarded through a lottery system and average about $475 a month per family. Last year, Housing Works was not able to issue any new Section 8 vouchers between May and December because of a lack of funding, Wooden said. He added that it is normal for about 350 people to enter the lottery for vouchers every time the organization opens up the list.

Wooden said he found out about the extra funding in June. It was a surprise because Housing and Urban Development’s budget runs on a calendar year, and in January it cut the amount of money going to Housing Works by 3 percent.

“They gave it to us in July, which means that we have until the end of the year to spend it, so that’s what we’re doing right now,” Wooden said. “For the rest of the year it will definitely help out the people who need it. The big question mark is every year they change it, so who knows what will happen in January of next year.”

Wooden said that HUD originally allocated about $5.1 million to Housing Works for this year. He added that he wasn’t given any explanation for the recent bump in funding.

Martha Dilts, deputy regional director for HUD in Seattle, wrote in an e-mail that the U.S. Congress recently “changed the funding formula” for Section 8 housing vouchers, which allowed HUD to increase funds for organizations like Housing Works. All of the public housing authorities in Oregon received similar increases, Dilts said.

Tim Cox, Housing Works’ chief financial officer, said the organization’s total annual budget is about $8 million.

“Those housing assistance payments make up about $5 (million) of that — it’s a big portion of our budget that just flows right through,” Cox said.

In addition to handing out the vouchers to residents throughout Central Oregon, Housing Works has spearheaded about a dozen affordable housing developments in its 30-year history. For this year, it is working on one project in northeast Bend and one in Madras. The apartments are usually rented to families who earn 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, Wooden said.

“Those are affordable properties and unlike Section 8 where (the amount of rent covered is) based off your income, everybody in a three-bedroom pays the same amount,” Wooden said. “Section 8 is for the lowest segment of income — this is more for the middle section of the work force.”

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