SPRINGFIELD - The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is cutting operating funds for public housing authorities around the nation, which could limit maintenance, security and other services to the poor families, elderly and disabled people who live in those apartments.
?It's going to be a grim year for most of us,? said Richard Unz, executive director of the Danville Housing Authority.
Unz is expecting a 30 percent cut, or about $360,000 less than usual, for his budget year beginning April 1.
?That would have a drastic impact,? he said. ?A good share of our budget is committed to salaries and utility cost. That means the cuts would have to come out of maintenance and services to keep up our 537 housing units.?
Basically, any repair that is not an emergency will not be made, he said. Other non-essential services, such as mowing, plowing snow and painting units in between tenants, will also have to be cut back.
?All housing authorities in Illinois are different, which means every community will be affected differently by this torrent of bad news,? said Willis Logan, president of the Illinois Chapter of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and executive director of the Springfield Housing Authority. ?There is, however, one constant: If this trend continues, the effects on our programs, our disabled and elderly citizens, our families, our young people, and indeed our communities, will be devastating.?
Statewide, $78 million of the $260 million in federal funds for public housing authorities is being cut, according to Logan. Other states are being hit equally hard.
The problem started in 2002, when faulty accounting led HUD to underestimate by about $250 million how much money would be needed to pay all of the operating subsidies for the public housing authorities.
The department plans to eliminate that shortfall by prorating the amount it sends to each of the individual housing authorities in 2003, HUD spokeswoman Donna White said.
Right now, those prorated amounts are as little as 54 percent of full funding, but the situation could improve.
After Congress officially passes a new budget for HUD, public housing authorities like the ones in Danville and Champaign County, which are expecting to get 70 percent of full funding, may be able to get up to 90 percent, White said.
But the association representing those authorities wants Congress to step in with the money now to avoid those cuts entirely.
?This is unacceptable,? said Thomas Smith, president of the Illinois Association of Housing Authorities and executive director of the Decatur Housing Authority.
?Homelessness in Illinois is already a problem. With the proposed cuts, housing authorities may be forced to turn people away.?
In the meantime, the Housing Authority of Champaign County is drafting two versions of its budget for the year beginning April 1: one assuming a 70 percent funding level and one at 90 percent, Interim Executive Director Kimberli McCloud-Burnett said.
McCloud-Burnett said she was not sure what cuts would be needed for those budgets, and did not want to speculate on what other cuts might be necessary before she presents the draft budgets to the board later this month.
She did say, however, that the potential $268,000 shortfall would be made up on the administrative side of operations.
?Our residents, they are not going to feel the cuts,? McCloud-Burnett said.
Some of the state's housing authorities will be hit harder than others.
The Vermilion County Housing Authority, which operates 212 units in Hoopeston, Rossville, Georgetown, Allerton and Fairmount, will get just 54 percent of its usual operating subsidy, a $200,000 cut for the budget year that began Oct. 1, said Executive Director Tony Hasbergen.
?I just happen to be lucky that I've got some reserves,? Hasbergen said. ?A lot of housing authorities don't have any reserves. We are being told that this is a one-year short-time thing and that everything will be back to normal next fiscal year. Drawing on reserves, we will be able to handle this year, but if it goes on more than one year, I don't know what will happen.?
HUD spokeswoman White said the agency plans to fund housing authorities at the appropriate level in 2004, ?whatever the appropriate level turns out to be.?