Less than a year after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development praised the Chattanooga Housing Authority for fully leasing its Housing Choice Voucher Program, the department is cutting money for the program's staff.
"HUD still expects us to do exactly what we're doing," said Tammie Reeves, CHA's Housing Choice Voucher Program director. "We just have to do it with less people."
HUD officials said the budget for administrative fees in the Housing Choice Voucher Program, formerly known as Section 8, will be prorated at 83 percent for 2011. Based on that figure, CHA must cut costs by $200,000, officials said.
The cuts means the Housing Choice Voucher Program will lose four staff people. With only 22 people working and three of them are part time, cutting four people means cutting about 20 percent of the staff, said Reeves.
A waiting list specialist, customer service representative, clerical support/help line and a field service specialist who does voucher program house inspections have all been eliminated, she said.
"We'll feel it. The participants will feel it. The landlords will feel it," she said. "We'll do what we can, but it will be very hard for that to go unnoticed."
The Housing Choice Voucher Program across the nation is facing cuts to administrative fees. However, rental fees to landlords for program participants are fully funded so no vouchers will be lost, said HUD spokeswoman Donna White.
And HUD is asking Congress to fund administrative fees to be prorated at 90 percent for its 2012 budget, she said.
At CHA, the most noticeable impact from the cuts will be with phone calls, Reeves said.
"It was already not great," she said. "We were already struggling with our phones and now that we're losing the person who was handling our switchboard, it's going to be even tougher."
The quickest way to get customer service is by coming to the office if there is a matter to report, said Reeves. Clients and landlords are also encouraged to send an e-mail or mail information.
"That's not to say don't call," she said. "It's just that you're going to get quicker service through one of the other routes than you probably are with a return phone call."
Reported changes in the Housing Choice Voucher Program also will take longer to get processed and it may take longer to get inspections done, Reeves said. CHA may also start doing recertifications of residents' eligibility for the voucher program in big groups, she said.
In January 2011, HUD gave CHA a Best Practices distinction for a Housing Choice Voucher Program blitz that led to the agency leasing all 3,140 of its vouchers in 2010. It was the first time all vouchers had been leased in 10 years, officials said.
In August, seven months after being notified of the award, CHA received confirmation of the administrative funding reduction.
The cuts are the result of a Congress that is not sensitive to needs of the poor, said CHA board Chairman Eddie Holmes.
"The make-up of Congress is not user friendly to agencies like HUD who has to administer to the needs of the poor," he said. "We have a new wave of representatives who feel like government is too large and they need to cut back. They don't understand how to promote for the general welfare of all the citizens."
Three of the four employees in CHA's Housing Voucher program have been moved to the authority's Low Income Public Housing Program, Reeves said.