Families that faced eviction and homelessness were bought a little time Tuesday, when the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors voted to pull $1 million from reserves to cover a shortfall in the Section 8 housing subsidy program caused by the federal sequester.
“There has been a great deal of concern about how to respond to federal cuts to Section 8 housing vouchers,” Supervisor Dave Cortese said. “This is the county’s contribution to keeping good people from losing their homes.”
More than 16,500 households in the county depend on the Section 8 rental subsidy. Sixty percent of those tenants are elderly or disabled. But starting this month, rents shot up because Congress in March slashed the 2013-14 fiscal year funding for the housing program, leaving the Housing Authority of Santa Clara County reeling from a $16 million shortfall.
The local housing authority had to figure out whether to withdraw all support for up to 1,000 families or reduce rent support for all the participants. To cope, it raised rents by as much as $500 in some cases, forcing some families to move to smaller, cheaper places. It also approached South Bay cities and housing organizations about contributing emergency cash to prevent more evictions.
“The requirement to move or pay a rent increase is putting additional financial stress on families that already have difficulty making ends meet,” said Housing Authority Director Alex Sanchez. “Some families are facing eviction because they cannot pay the rent increase.”
That $1 million in emergency cash will help the housing authority pay security deposits on more affordable rentals to make sure people aren’t left unsheltered.
“Housing is a basic need we all share,” Board of Supervisors President Ken Yeager said in a statement. “Residents are facing eviction from their homes because Congress can’t make responsible budget decisions. It is up to local government to step in and help where we can.”
Those shortfalls in housing funding came just as San Jose and other cities prioritized housing assistance for its growing population of homeless residents.
“At a time when we are making progress in re-housing the homeless, seeing a large number of individuals and families at risk of becoming homeless due to the impacts of sequestration would be a huge step in the wrong direction,” said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, who serves on the board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee.
Other agencies contributed to the Housing Authority’s emergency housing program, with the county giving $1 million, $500,000 coming from the Housing Authority, $250,000 from the city of San Jose and $70,000 combined from Sunnyvale and Santa Clara.
It’s all just a temporary quick fix, though.
“It is important to realize that this is an emergency program that does not solve the long term affordable housing challenges we face in this county,” noted County Executive Jeff Smith. “However, it is important that this collaborative of agencies have come together to prevent families and individuals from becoming homeless.”