Sunday, June 13, 2004

Officials Get Tough on Rent Subsidies

Officials Get Tough on Rent Subsidies

Officials Get Tough on Rent Subsidies
L.A. Housing Authority will start enforcing federal rule and end aid to illegal immigrants.

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By Jocelyn Y. Stewart, Times Staff Writer

After nine years of not doing so, Los Angeles housing officials plan to begin enforcing a federal rule that will ban thousands of undocumented immigrants from subsidized housing.

The change in policy means that thousands of undocumented immigrants who receive housing assistance will lose their monthly subsidy or face higher rents. The regulation, which has existed since 1995, prohibits undocumented immigrants from receiving assistance in public housing developments or through Section 8, a federal program that provides help with monthly rents.

Since its inception, officials in the Housing Authority of the city of Los Angeles had applied the regulation only to new participants in the programs. In May, however, officials notified families who were already receiving assistance in 1995 that the rule would be applied to them as well.

The Housing Authority's failure to implement the regulation in the past constituted a violation of federal policy, said David Clark, acting director of Section 8 for the Housing Authority.

"The intentions were probably good," Clark said Thursday. "They wanted to keep families together as long as possible and not hurt them. But the law is the law."

Officials determined that about 3,000 people will be affected in some way: 639 families on Section 8 and 251 in public housing.

The regulation requires officials to terminate assistance to families in which all members are undocumented — about 140 Section 8 families and 21 families living in public housing developments.

Mixed families, in which some members are documented and others are not, will have to pay more of their rent, based on the number of undocumented members. Rents will increase on average about $327 a month.

The decision has upset housing advocates, who are already scrambling to help families affected by other cuts to the Section 8 program.

"Given the escalating rents and high cost of housing everywhere, there's no way any of these families are going to find a cheaper place than where they already are," said Bob Erlenbusch, executive director of the Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness.

Of the 3,000 people, almost 1,700 are children younger than 18, said Erlenbusch. The average Section 8 family has an income of $12,385 a year. The average family living in public housing has an annual income of $11,972.

"We know that 20% of the families will be paying 80% of the income in rent," he said. "Those families will be placed into incredibly difficult choices: rent vs. food, rent vs. clothes for their children."

The decision is the latest fallout from a funding crisis that surfaced in February and threatened the Housing Authority with being placed in a federal receivership. An agreement between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the agency gives federal officials greater control over Housing Authority matters and requires local officials to abide by all HUD regulations.

Implementing what has been dubbed the "citizenship rule" was not specifically a part of the agreement signed by HUD and local housing officials, "but it has been a part of the discussion we've had since the beginning," Clark said. "We wanted to be as forthcoming as possible."

HUD spokesman Larry Bush said families aren't often terminated from the program because they tend to seek other housing once their immigration status becomes known.

"Many choose not to continue with the assistance because they fear it will lower their chances for obtaining citizenship," Bush said.

Families were initially notified in 1995 of the regulation and were given time to get proper documentation, said Judy Luther, the Housing Authority's acting executive director.

As more families provide documentation, the estimate of those affected by the new implementation will continue to decline, she said.

"Some of the families we're working with to help them get their documentation," Luther said. "Some of the families we know we can't help get documentation, we're trying to help them get other housing."


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