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Housing Authority set to downsize

BY REBECCA MORIN | DECEMBER 04, 2013 5:00 AM

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Two full-time positions at the Iowa City Housing Authority will be cut starting in February 2014. Although the Iowa City city councilors were hesitant to cut the positions, most felt it was necessary.

The Iowa City City Council voted 6-1, with City Councilor Jim Throgmorton dissenting, to reduce one full-time housing program-assistant position and one housing-assistant position.

“This particular instance, it’s too easy to point a finger to blame to the federal government,” Throgmorton said. “I think we need to be rethinking how we’re delivering housing related services. We should take this opportunity to do it more skillfully.”

The Section 8 administrative revenue is down, as well as public-housing subsidies. The Section 8 voucher funding is also down by 6 percent from sequestration, causing the Housing Authority to reduce one part-time position in the past year in anticipation of the budget cuts.

A housing choice voucher is a voucher to get affordable housing.

The Housing Authority had previously cut several expenses in a variety of operations, including eliminating or significantly reducing housing choice voucher line items such as travel and software maintenance.

“Just based on the federal government, eventually it was going to trickle down,” said Lucy Joseph, one of the housing assistants whose position was cut. “But I didn’t think it would affect us at all.”

The two full-time positions will be laid off effective Feb. 19, 2014; the duration of the cuts is indefinite.

“It’s the last thing we want to do, and it was very difficult,” said Doug Boothroy, the city’s director of Housing and Inspection Services. “I don’t ever want to be in this position again. We need to put closure on this so we can move forward and heal. This is no way a performance issue; it’s all about funding.”

Boothroy said although housing-voucher utilization was down from the average 98 percent to 94 percent, it did not play a factor into the layoffs. If the voucher utilization was at a 98 percent rate, the Housing Authority would have earned an additional $27,668.

“At this point in time, we are at 94 percent utilization, which is where we should not be,” Boothroy said. “If we had been able to achieve a 98 percent, we would have earned an additional [funds], but it’s not enough to cover the shortfall.”

With the current six staffers, approximately 200 clients are managed by each housing assistant. However, with the number being reduced to four, the staff’s workload could grow up to 304 clients.

Throgmorton was concerned about the increased workload and the effect it will have on the clients.

“The staff being laid off are important to make sure the most vulnerable people in the city can be aided to find housing,” Throgmorton said. “I’m concerned the reduction in staff will hinder our ability to do what is needed to be done.”

City Councilor Susan Mims disagreed with Throgmorton.

“It’s devastating, the people involved and their families,” she said. “But I do disagree on the idea that this is going to have a negative effect on the most vulnerable people in the community in terms of finding houses. I don’t think it’s responsible to sit up here and tell the public that it’s going to negatively effect the most vulnerable people in the community.”

Although city officials expressed their reluctance to proceed with the layoffs, most felt the necessary measures were taken.

“This looks to me that this is a last step, last ditch to a difficult situation,” Mayor Matt Hayek said. “I’m reluctant to have us question or interfere with what I think is really the role of our managing office. I think our goal is to avoid layoffs where possible and to position ourselves in the future through attrition.”


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