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Hope for public housing

Submitted by on 1, September 4, 2008 – 11:45 amNo Comment

Massive cuts to public housing budgets over the last, oh, seven or so years, have made it increasingly difficult for cities’ public housing agencies to maintain the homes they have created for lower income residents. So what’s a city to do with its public housing? In the case of our little Island, Housing Authority head Michael Pucci has hit upon with an ingenious solution: Call it something else.

We’ll explain.

Like many public housing directors across the country, Pucci has relied on Hope VI public housing funds to pay for and maintain the city’s low-income apartment complexes. But those funds have dwindled over the years, forcing agencies like Pucci’s to defer maintenance and pushing the budgets for housing complexes into the red.

So Pucci’s agency is taking advantage of federal rules that allow it to lease housing complexes to others – in our case, the city’s Community Improvement Commission – and apply for Section 8 housing vouchers, which are typically used to rent privately owned apartments. While capped by the federal government, Section 8 provide a much greater income stream than the decimated Hope VI.

The tenants can stay – or go rent an apartment somewhere else, if they choose – and the city gets enough money to maintain their properties and keep their budgets in the black. The city still owns the property, and the housing authority continues to manage it. But technically, it’s no longer labeled “public housing.”

The housing authority has already made the conversion at Parrot Village and Eagle Village, Pucci told the CIC (aka the City Council) this week. Next up is the 120-unit Esperanza complex. Esperanza is slated to run a nearly $208,000 deficit this year; if the federal government approves the Section 8 plan, it will go nearly $460,000 into the black, allowing the housing authority to make needed repairs.

City staff hope to have the plan approved by the federal government by April 30, 2009. You can get more on this by checking out the staff report, here.

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