NW Section 8 casualties get some relief

HUD: An estimated one out of every 200 Oregonians are homeless

Nearly 300 families in Northwest Oregon got some breathing room this month – a one-month extension on assistance to keep them in housing.

In late May, the Northwest Oregon Housing Authority, NOHA, notified 285 recipients of Section 8 housing assistance vouchers that they would be dropped from the program as of July 1. The cuts from the program were caused by a shortfall in funding for the housing authority from the federal Bureau of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, which funds the Section 8 program. In some cases, NOHA was paying 90 percent of the rent for recipients, who stretch across Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties.

In late June, NOHA’s board of directors voted to tap $145,000 in its reserves to pay for the month of July for the effected families. One of those families belongs to Jennifer Cherry, who had nearly all of her family’s rent paid for by NOHA. She and her partner, who are recovering from disabilities, have three children.
“HUD gave us July, so we’ll see what happens for next month,” said Cherry, who said her landlord has also been very helpful during the ordeal.

On Thursday, the OHCS received half of a $15 million relief package from HUD’s new Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program. As the name indicates, the money is to help prevent people from becoming homeless and to rapidly re-house those who have. The funding is part of the economic stimulus package, and includes allocations to Portland, Eugene, Salem and Clackamas and Washington counties. OHCS received nearly $8 million, and will distribute the money to Oregon’s smaller communities and rural areas, including the three-county region covered by NOHA.

“Our intention is to help those folks who had vouchers and were terminated,” says Lisa Joyce, legislative relations manager for OHCS. “We know that they were eligible for assistance.”

Joyce says the money will not be distributed directly to the families, but to third parties, such as landlords or utility companies. The program is also aimed at re-housing people who are likely to remain housed after the emergency assistance is concluded.

Shortly after the announcement from NOHA, the Oregon Housing and Community Services issued $50,000 to help the families, to be administered by the Community Action Team. Cherry says she might be getting some assistance from that funding to help with August.

“We’re going to try to keep folks in stable housing because we know that is essential for the families well being and the wellbeing for the children there,” Joyce said. “And also stabilizing the economy, which is one of the goals of ARRA is to keep things flowing.”

For the families affected in Clatsop, Columbia and Tillamook counties, the lead agency for distributing the funds will be the Community Action Team.

The news of the money available through the new Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program comes after HUD announced that it did not have funding to extend Section 8 housing assistance for the 285 families terminated in Northwest Oregon. The Homeless Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program announcement also comes on the heals of HUD’s Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress. According to the report Oregon leads the nation for the highest concentration of homeless people per capita. Based on the single night count in January 2008, 1 out of every 200 people in Oregon was homeless.

Joyce said the key is for people who are facing possible eviction or having trouble making payments, to contact their local community action agency before an eviction happens.

“The key is don’t wait,” Joyce says. “Don’t ignore the pieces of paper. Take action early because then you’re in a better position to work things out.”

Patricia Roberts, a member of NOHA’s board of directors, said it will do all it can to keep people in housing, but if people do have to move, she says they should notify NOHA of their new address. NOHA hopes to restore funding to the affected families at the end of this year.

The United Way in Rainier, Ore., has set up a fund to help the families that lost their housing assistance. To donate, call 503-556-3614, or write to Executive Director Kathye Beck at uwcc@hotmail.com.

Posted by Joanne Zuhl

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