The Orange Housing Authority is bracing for what could be a bumpy ride as they look to the future to determine what cuts may come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The program, according to a report from White House Office of Management and Budget, has not escaped the across-the-board congressional spending cuts known as sequestration and will fall on the highly vulnerable families.

“Nothing is clear cut what HUD is going to do,” said LaNita Brown, deputy executive director of the Orange Housing Authority. “It all depends on Congress.”

The housing choice voucher program, administered by HUD, provides subsidies to qualifying individuals and families in need of assistance.

Across the nation, housing hardships among low-income renters are rising sharply. Since 2007, the number of renters with what HUD terms “worst-case housing needs,” has risen by 43 percent, to 8.5 million households. Hardships for families with children have been particularly acute and the number of families living in homeless shelters has risen 32 percent over the same period.

Half of the 2.1 million households on the voucher program  are seniors or people with disabilities; most of the rest are families with children. On average, these households have incomes of about $12,500 per year, well below the poverty line. Without rental assistance, housing would be unaffordable for these families, placing them at heightened risk of becoming homeless and sharply reducing the resources they can use to buy food, medicine, and other essentials, according to HUD.

The OHA has 815 families on Section 8 housing which is a program that authorizes the payment of rental housing assistance to private landlords. They also have 250 families in a low-rent program and these people live in one of their sites. The sites are sprinkled around Orange. The complexes are the Whispering Oaks, Cove Terrace, Velma Jeter, Craig Homes, Alexander Homes, Anderson Villa, Arthur Robinson and the James Zay Roberts.

In 2012,  2.1 million families received assistance. The funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program will be cut by $938 million this year. It is estimated the cut will cause more than 100,000 low-income families to lose rental assistance over the next 12 months and the figure could be as high as 140,000 when it has concluded.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,  estimates 113,414 families will be cut from Section 8 housing choice vouchers as a result of the sequestration. HUD’s own estimate is slightly higher, projecting that approximately 125,000 individuals and families could lose assistance.

For one in 10 agencies, however, cutting the number of families served via attrition won’t be enough to make up for the budget shortfalls. These agencies will be forced to take more drastic steps—such as terminating assistance for some families currently using vouchers—as early as this summer.

In anticipation of voucher funding cuts, which will amount to about a seven percent reduction for the rest of this year, some housing agencies are already cutting the number of families they assist by not reissuing vouchers when families leave the program. Most of the 2,300 state and local housing agencies that administer the program are likely to follow suit. Approximately 200,000 families leave the program every year, and there are long waiting lists for assistance in nearly every community, according to the report.

“We are taking steps now to prevent terminating anybody’s assistance,” Brown said.

Through communications with HUD, the Orange Housing authority has learned they could see an eight percent cut to their public housing funding and a six percent cut on Section 8 funding.

As a precaution, OHA officials have already implemented a plan. They are not issuing any new vouchers and the list to get on public housing has been closed since July.

They are also cutting back on administration expenses as well. They have already reviewed the budget but will further review the budget to see if salary or benefits adjustments may be needed, Brown said.

The OHA receives two types of funding. For section 8 housing they receive a subsidy which is paid to the landord. In addition, they receive funding which is based on the number of section 8 vouchers which are occupied. This funding has been cut 31 percent.

“We are doing everything we can to not have to lay off any personnel,” Brown said.

To meet expenses, HUD is requiring OHA to use reserve funds to help offset the shortfall, Brown added.

However, with all the cuts, other funding has been set aside for projects to move forward.

“There are no major projects on hold, but if something were to happen we have the capital funds to cover the costs,” Brown said.

The OHA has proposed to have three sites upgraded. The are looking to upgrade the Arthur Robinson and Velma Jeter complexes. In addition, they are hoping to tear down the Pine Grove apartments and completely rebuild them at the same location.

For Brown, this is the third time in her 22 year career to address drastic budget cuts, but feels they will get through it.

In spite of funding cuts, the Orange Housing Authority has proposed plans through different funding programs to move forward with tearing down the old Pine Grove apartment complex and rebuilding on the site. RECORD PHOTO: Debby Schamber.