Letter to the Editor - July 23

July 23, 2011

Policy reversal will hurt housing authorities

To the editor:

On July 14, the markup of the Transportation-HUD (T-HUD) 2012 appropriation in the House began. The results of a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-commissioned study — the Public Housing Capital Needs Assessment — found that the National Public Housing portfolio has a $26 billion backlog of unmet capital needs.

With appropriations for the Public Housing Capital Fund at a historic low and a portfolio that only continues to age, this information could not have come at a more inopportune time. What’s worse is that in 2011 alone the Capital Fund was cut by 14 percent.

Nonetheless, HUD is promoting a proposal that would limit even further the ability of local housing authorities to maintain their portfolios. Specifically, HUD is proposing to offset $1 billion in existing public housing reserves that housing authorities use to make necessary and unexpected capital repairs.

Reducing available resources that public housing authorities (PHAs) need to preserve their inventory is woefully misguided. Previous HUD policies encouraged PHAs to accumulate reserves for these same purposes. This sudden reversal in policy creates a retroactive and punitive framework.  

Rather than reducing the resources and flexibility needed to maintain decent, safe and affordable housing, HUD should help housing authorities more effectively utilize these resources for the good of the residents and the community. What is more unsettling is that it appears that HUD is selecting PHAs where less political pressure would be put to bear the brunt of the $1 billion they propose to take from the PHAs reserves.

In Maryland, only the Hagerstown Housing Authority and the College Park authority have reserves that HUD plans to take. This means PHAs like Baltimore, Frederick, Montgomery and Washington counties do not have reserves that will be recaptured.

The Hagerstown Housing Authority worked hard over the last 15 years and has accumulated more than $4 million in reserves in an effort to improve or replace our worst communities. We have accomplished this by being efficient, innovative and generating income through a number of other ways too numerous to mention in this piece.

Many housing authorities have costly defined pension plans that we do not. Do the housing authorities that do not have defined pension plans or other extraordinary additional fringes have to pay for their luxuries?

The proposed plan by HUD to effectively steal housing authorities’ reserves rewards inefficient bureaucracies and punishes the efficient. Isn’t that part of the problem with the federal deficit?

Ted Shankle, executive director
Hagerstown Housing Authority

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