Housing Authority seeks funding change for public housing

By Amanda Waldroupe, Staff Writer

The Housing Authority of Portland’s board of commissioners voted unanimously on Tuesday, March 15 to pursue an application to the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to change the funding stream for 1,200 units of subsidized, public housing for low-income people.

The Housing Authority of Portland (HAP) owns and operates 1,200 public housing units in 10 high rise buildings. Public housing is limited to people and families on extremely low-incomes, the elderly and disabled. Residents pay no more than 30 percent of their incomes in rent; the rest of the rent is subsidized by HAP and funding from HUD.

HAP wants to switch the type of subsidy people receive from a public housing subsidy to project-based Section 8 vouchers. Section 8 vouchers are funded by a different HUD funding stream and is like public housing in the sense that a low-income person pays no more than 30 percent of their rent. If a Section 8 voucher is “project-based,” it means the subsidy is connected with the physical living unit — whoever lives in that unit will receive the subsidy.

HAP wants to make the change in order to pay for a number of capital improvements to the buildings, which are in need of electrical and plumbing repairs, as well as new siding, carpeting, and other major repairs totalling about $30 million.

“We don’t have any way of financing those capital needs,” says Shelley Marchesi, HAP’s spokesperson.

By converting the units to project-based Section 8 units, HAP will be able to access tax-credit financing, meaning that the agency will able to secure equity and take on debt for the buildings. By doing so, it will be able to make the capital improvements and secure the buildings for low-income housing for another 50 years.

“Underpinning all of this work is that we need to preserve housing for low-income people,” says Mike Andrews, HAP’s director of development and community revitalization.

Because Section 8 vouchers have stricter income restrictions than public housing, approximately 66 people — including 30 low-income, full-time students — will no longer be able to live at the units. Dianne Quast, HAP’s director of real estate operations, told the board of commissioners that HAP will help the tenants relocate to comparable housing.

Marchesi says HAP will not go forward with the application if HUD refuses to give tenants the same legal protections they currently have as tenants of public housing (primarily eviction rights). She also says that if HUD does not give HAP additional Section 8 vouchers, they will not go through with the switch.

“We’re not going to take vouchers out of our existing voucher pool,” Marchesi says.

Advocates for affordable housing think the move on HAP’s part is generally positive.

Bobby Weinstock, housing consultant for Northwest Pilot Project, which serves elderly, low-income Portlanders, says housing authorities across the country are letting their public housing properties foreclose, rather than invest in the buildings and ensure they remain affordable.

“Our housing authority is going in a very different direction,” Weinstock says. “They want to preserve the hard units. They’re exactly on the right track here in preserving the buildings.”

He and Micky Ryan, an affordable housing advocate and lawyer, worry that there is a risk that HAP may not be able to pay back any private debt it collects to pay for the capital improvements. If that becomes the case for some reason, the private investors could take over the building.

“It seems like a small risk,” Weinstock says. “The benefit is great if they can extend the life of these buildings.”

One response to “Housing Authority seeks funding change for public housing

  1. This is a good idea. Due to yesterdays vote, HUD funding will also be cut substantially, which will really degrade the situation further.

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