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HUD: Federal sequester will cause Illinois 4,500 fewer families to receive housing

Bradley Drake 35  resident Country Club Hills Wellness Center.  Due federal sequester local housing agencies will face severe

Bradley Drake, 35, a resident at the Country Club Hills Wellness Center. Due to the federal sequester, local housing agencies will face severe cuts to programming, including the Housing Choice Voucher program used to move families from areas of concentrated poverty to better city neighborhoods or suburbs. Wednesday, March 13, 2013 | Scott Stewart~ Sun-Times

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Updated: April 19, 2013 6:03AM

Bradley Drake, an unemployed grocery store worker, has waited 13 years for a Section 8 voucher that would allow him to finally afford his own apartment.

But the federal sequester means the man who temporarily lives in a subsidized apartment in Country Club Hills will wait even longer — as will thousands of others.

“I’ve waited a long time for help. This sequester, to have this happen, is definitely sad for a person like me,” said Drake, 35, a minimum-wage worker who lost his job at Jewel a year ago.

He’s been on the Cook County Housing Authority (HACC) waiting list since 2000.

Cuts to the Department of Housing & Urban Development have triggered dire consequences for the Housing Choice Voucher Program used by the Chicago Housing Authority to move thousands of families from areas of concentrated poverty into more diverse neighborhoods and suburbs.

Statewide, thousands who would have gotten vouchers this year from municipal and regional housing agencies, won’t get them — including up to 700 families on HACC’s list. Currently, HACC isn’t accepting applications for Section 8 vouchers.

And many who have already been awarded the elusive benefit — helping 2.1 million poor pay for housing nationwide, half of them elderly and disabled — may see themselves cut off.

Under the sequester, HUD says Illinois will lose $45.3 million in funding for the voucher program — equating to 4,592 fewer families statewide receiving them this year.

Illinois also will lose $4.9 million in homeless assistance; $2.1 million in funding for affordable housing development; and $372,000 in funding of housing for people with AIDS.

Final numbers won’t be known until Congress approves a spending bill. And as of Thursday, no viable proposals were on the table to change the federal fiscal situation.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan told Congress he estimates up to 125,000 families nationwide who already have the vouchers could lose them, once budget shortfalls hit local housing agencies.

“These are very steep cuts,” said HACC Executive Director Richard Monocchio.

“My first priority, first and foremost, is that nobody loses their housing. But this will mean 500 to 700 families — new families we otherwise would have been able to assist, many of them on the waiting list for years — will not be helped.”

CHA officials are guarded about the foreseen impact, potentially significant, as the agency has been steadily migrating residents from its deconstructed public housing into other areas under its “Plan for Transformation” — which knocked down high rises, like the Robert Taylor units.

“The mayor’s office of the city of Chicago is working closely with sister agencies and city departments to assess the impact on all Chicagoans, and to plan accordingly to ensure their safety, security and well-being,” CHA spokeswoman Wendy Parks responded.

Mayoral spokeswoman Kathleen Strand failed to return numerous phone calls on the issue.

CHA currently provides 36,000 Chicago families with the tenant-based vouchers.

On its waiting list are another 34,000 — chosen by lottery each time the closed list opens.

The sequester is whittling housing assistance for the poor at a time when unemployment and foreclosures have meant rising need, say housing advocates.

A new study by Housing Action Illinois, released Feb. 28, showed only 28 units available and affordable for every 100 extremely low-income renters, defined as renters at or below 30 percent of the area median income — $20,850 for a family of four; $14,600 for an individual.

“Many more people are renting and competition for those few rental units affordable to extremely low-income households has increased, and rents for these households have continued to go up,” said that group’s policy director, Bob Palmer. “Sequestration is only making worse an already really serious, affordable housing crisis in Illinois.”

HACC currently provides housing vouchers to 12,500 families in suburban Cook County.

Its waiting list holds another 8,700 — many waiting as long as or longer than Drake.

Jenny Rivera, 31, of Oak Forest, for example, has similarly been on the list 13 years.

“In that time, I got married, had children, endured domestic abuse, had our home foreclosed on, and bounced from family members to friends’ homes,” Rivera said.

She and her children were living at a homeless shelter when, like Drake, she lucked out and obtained placement in October at the newly opened Country Club Hills Wellness Center, a supportive housing facility run by the nonprofit housing group, South Suburban PADS.

But even such housing programs run by local nonprofits are threatened.

“It is a hurtful thing,” Monocchio said, “especially in this economy, where housing help already is hard to come by.”

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