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Sequester a ‘tight squeeze’ for Section 8 housing residents

July 18, 2014 By Matthew Taub Special to Brooklyn Daily Eagle from Brooklyn Brief
Yolanda Matthews and Blanche Peltonbusch at a hearing on Section 8 Housing, held at Borough Hall
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To see the consequences of congressional belt tightening, look no further than Yolanda Matthews.

“They’re squeezing me,” Matthews said. “I don’t know how I’m going to live.”

Section 8 housing allows Matthews — a resident of Brownsville’s Marcus Garvey Village for 39 years — to live in a three-bedroom apartment with her son and granddaughter.  Total rent: $1,300. Permanently disabled from an on-the-job injury since 2002, Matthews receives workers’ compensation payments. After rent is paid, she subsists on about $200-$300 a month for food.

But as a result of the 2013 budget sequester, she is being asked to pay more or move her family to a smaller apartment with at least one less bedroom.

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“On March 2, 2013, an across the board 5.1 percent cut to the federal budget took effect as a result of the Budget Control Act,” said Vicki Been, head of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD), who led a recent hearing regarding the subject at Borough Hall. “As a result, HPD experienced a $37 million shortfall.”

The department is trying to keep all Section 8 tenants housed, Been explained. But given the magnitude of cuts, they must employ draconian housing reductions and/or significant rent increases in order to ensure all residents can, in some form, continue to be covered under the program.

This is an example of how the congressional sequester, often heralded by conservatives as an example of responsible budgeting, may have appalling implications for those on the receiving end of its constraints. In poor, outer-borough neighborhoods, with a population mostly invisible to the general public, lie some of its victims: residents who rely on federal subsidies for low-income housing.

These individuals attended the Borough Hall hearing Wednesday evening, where they heard confirmation of this disquieting news.

Blanche Peltonbusch was another Section 8 tenant left with few good options. 

“I’ve lived in Marcus Garvey Village for 33 years,” Peltonbusch said. “After two mild heart attacks, and four mini strokes, I’m handicapped. My children come and stay with me in the extra bedroom I have, rotating to provide care. If I don’t have that extra bedroom, where are they going to stay? I can’t afford to hire help like that. And moving is detrimental to my health.”

The borough president called for the hearing after being disturbed by a wave of similar stories.

“Over the last several months, I have heard from numerous Brooklynites about their concerns regarding this policy at HPD,” said Borough President Eric Adams. “Keeping New Yorkers in their homes, and treating them with the respect and dignity they deserve, is an upmost priority, especially as we combat the citywide affordable housing crisis. It is my hope that this dialogue will lead to some positive steps forward in pursuing this essential mission.”

Council member Laurie Cumbo was named as a panelist, among a host of other officials. At a candidates’ forum during her election campaign, Cumbo had proposed filing a class action suit against the federal government for misuse of funds.

“A class action lawsuit can be productive in the sense that it’s a way of bundling all those grievances in one lawsuit to change the system, or at least bring attention to it,” Cumbo explained at the time.

Originally enacted as part of a federal statute in 1937, Section 8 housing provides vouchers to landlords, allowing low-income tenants to reside in their private apartments at subsidized rates. The 2011 sequester in the U.S. Congress, implemented in March of 2013, has resulted in a crisis for state and local housing agencies in their efforts to continue to subsidize the apartments of some 2.1 million low-income households. As many as 185,000 low-income families could lose their housing vouchers altogether by the end of 2014, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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