Government shutdown erodes SB landlords' trust in Housing Authority program
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After self-operating for over a month without federal assistance due to the government shutdown, Santa Barbara’s Housing Authority continues to carry out business as usual. Local landlords and tenants of the Section 8 housing program anticipate increasingly uncertain conditions.
Congress reached an agreement with President Trump on Friday, January 25th, ending the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history. Nine departments were closed for 35 consecutive days, according to NPR Politics. Among those shut down was the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which oversees housing authority and funds local programs such as low income Section 8 housing. According to HUD, “the housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market.” Vouchers received by tenants directly subsidize a portion of monthly rent payment, with tenants paying the remaining amount to landlords.
The Housing Authority of the city of Santa Barbara (HACSB) is one of a multitude of local housing authorities across the nation whose federal funding for Section 8 vouchers came to a halt during the shutdown. In an interview on Thursday, HACSB’s executive director and CEO Robert Fredericks described the local consequences of the shutdown in both the short-term and long-term future. “Locally, we’re impacted not because we don’t have funds to pay landlords - we’re one of the few local Housing Authorities fortunate to have reserves - but what the shutdown has caused is an erosion of local landlords’ faith in the Section 8 program. They may be unwilling to take [tenants’ in Section 8] vouchers in the future.”
HACSB wrote to landlords of Section 8-qualifying housing on January 24th, saying, “we value our relationship with all of our participating landlords and given the extraordinary circumstances, I ask for your continued partnership in housing voucher families in need.” The purpose of this letter was to update landlords on the current funding status, and to ease the apprehensions felt by many. Fredericks expressed particular concern for the negative ramifications that may fall on Section 8 tenants, who are already some of the most vulnerable members of the community.
Although HACSB had reserves in place to temporarily fund its local Section 8 program without federal support, Fredericks worries the shutdown has instilled a sense of anxiety in landlords and tenants alike: “we are in a community with very high housing costs, and little availability, but we guarantee that their [landlords’] rent payment will be made by tenants on time, on the first of every month. We’ve worked very hard over the years to cultivate trust in the local housing community, and now that trust is being shaken.”
According to Fredericks, HACSB is still issuing vouchers, with around 100 currently issued but not yet applied to available housing due to extremely few vacancies. As of Friday, February 1, HACSB states that “March and April renewal funding disbursements and administrative fees will be made on time. This is good news. In the event budget negotiations breakdown and the government enters into another shutdown on February 15th, we will be able to continue funding payments to our landlords through April.”
While HUD was able to immediately reopen last Monday, January 28, the President’s “continuing resolutions” with Congress must reach a final agreement before February 15th, under threat of yet another shutdown or even the possibility of a national state of emergency. In regard to other housing authorities that would be without funding or reserves in such an event, Fredericks states: “That gets very concerning. I’d hope we wouldn’t ever have to revisit [a similar shutdown], but we have to be prepared for that.”