Housing and the sequester

Published 9:53 pm Monday, May 20, 2013

The sequester is a great scary monster created in the laboratory of Washington, D.C., to frighten voters into calling their legislators and demanding action and not just endless words to reduce the federal deficit.

While the fear of indiscriminate spending cuts did, indeed, motivate Americans to call and write their congressmen, the resulting calls for capitulation from Capitol Hill (usually couched as “compromise” and always presented as something that should be done by folks from the other side of the political aisle) have not done much to bring about true action to break the fiscal and political logjam in Washington.

Neither, in case you had not noticed, has sequestration resulted in the end of the world. The IRS continues to collect taxes, and even though they’re facing a few days of money-saving furloughs in their future, agents still have time to dig into the prayers of people representing conservative organizations around the country. The nation’s poorest people (and some who don’t exactly fall into that group) continue to receive taxpayer largesse, and those who administer the many federal programs that distribute the funds have more work than ever.

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Just what difference, then, have across-the-board budget cuts had on federal spending? It’s hard to say at this point, as many government agencies are still phasing in their plans to reduce spending. But one result of the belt-tightening in Suffolk has been an overdue examination of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority’s rent voucher program, known widely as Section 8.

Sequestration is squeezing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development-funded program by 5 percent. At the same time, rent prices have risen locally in the past couple of years. The combination of the two factors means there is less money to spend on Section 8, so local program administrators have begun to examine how to run the program more efficiently.

In order to bring their spending in line with the new reality, SRHA officials have begun to work to ensure that “people who are not supposed to be assisted are not assisted anymore,” SRHA Director Clarissa McAdoo told a Suffolk News-Herald reporter recently.

That means making sure the program is limited to people whose incomes are actually within the range allowed by law. It means making sure participants keep up with their own portion of the rent on their homes. And it means making sure families are not in homes that are larger than what they need.

Many people would consider these measures to be among a set of basic fiscal-management techniques necessary to control spending in a program that spends nearly $6 million a year in Suffolk alone. Stopping to consider the aggregate of that level of spending across the nation, it seems pretty obvious administrators should be looking for ways to ensure money is not being wasted and that people do not take advantage of the system.

But it took sequestration and inflation to make the folks at HUD consider carefully enforcing the rules of the Section 8 program. Whatever your politics, that’s one result of sequestration that is very good for America.