Pa. housing advocates take funding plea to Washington

    United States Capitol building, Washington, D.C.  (Photo via ShutterStock)

    United States Capitol building, Washington, D.C. (Photo via ShutterStock)

    Public housing advocates in Pennsylvania are looking ahead to Dec. 13 with worry.

    That’s the deadline for the U.S. House-Senate Budget Conference Committee to sketch out a deal to prevent another government shutdown and another round of automatic across-the-board cuts, known as the sequester.

    As that calendar square creeps closer, a group is heading to D.C. to lobby local representatives one last time. The message on Tuesday will be simple: Restore the funding cuts to public housing.

    “We are urging them to replace the sequestration with more rational decisions that are based on the merit of the program, the community value being served, rather than just using slash-and-burn budgeting,” said Liz Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, a statewide coalition.

    Two teams will visit the offices of U.S. Reps. Jim Gerlach, Pat Meehan, Michael Fitzpatrick, Keith Rothfus and Charlie Dent, all Republicans.

    Sens. Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Bob Casey, his Democratic counterpart, are also on the list.

    In Pennsylvania, the federal sequester reduced the operating budgets of public housing agencies by 8 to 10 percent. Several housing authorities that were already working with less were hit even harder by the cuts.

    It’s all led to layoffs, furloughs and fewer housing vouchers.

    “Housing costs continue to rise and they will rise. And utility costs rise. All of that’s going up,” said Dale Gravett, executive director of the Chester County Housing Authority. “If we stay level … even, it’s a cut. So maybe we’re making it right now. We’re not going to make it in the future. It’s just not going to happen.”

    The sequester reduced Gravett’s budget from $17 million to $15 million. Several employees were laid off as a result.

    The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which supplies significant funding to local housing authorities, would see its budget reduced if the conference committee, formed after the first government shutdown this fall, can’t reach a deal.

    President Barack Obama has already signed an order for $109 billion worth of sequester cuts to take effect during the 2014 fiscal year that began Oct. 1.

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