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County seeks to transfer housing voucher administration

In an attempt to keep low-income housing vouchers in the hands of the local residents of southwest Colorado who need them, the Archuleta County Housing Authority has taken steps to take administration of those vouchers out of the hands of Archuleta County officials and into the domain of representatives from the state of Colorado.

Housing vouchers issued locally are provided through the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, part of the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency. That program subsidizes rents and mortgages for low-income families, the elderly and individuals with disabilities.

According to Kirsten Skeehan, chair of the Archuleta County Housing Authority board, administrating those vouchers at the county level has not been working. “It’s a matter of the economy of scale; it just doesn’t make sense.”

What Skeehan means is that, with strict guidelines governing HUD funds for housing assistance, rules meant to curb fraud and abuse of the system, required paperwork, inspections and other oversight necessary to process applications has at times overwhelmed county staff.

Archuleta County took over management of the program at the start of 2010, following dissatisfaction with how Housing Solutions, Inc., out of Durango had handled local applications.

“The Housing Authority underestimated the amount of work involved,” Skeehan said.

“We appreciate what the county has tried to do, but there was so much to do,” Skeehan added, saying that federal requirements put a burden on county employees that was difficult to meet, risking the loss of housing vouchers in Archuleta County.

“It was very important to get that paperwork done and getting it done right,” Skeehan said.

With 60 available vouchers spread across four counties in southwest Colorado (Archuleta along with La Plata, Montezuma and San Juan counties), Archuleta County has issued only 10 vouchers — one-fifth of those offered. With delays in filing applications while negotiating strict federal requirements, the county has risked its ability to provide vouchers to local residents in need.

Given the lack of manpower in Archuleta County, Skeehan said that the state has agreed, in principle, to administer the program for the county, but has yet to fully commit. While it is unknown exactly when the state will provide an answer, Skeehan expressed confidence that something will be worked out in the near future.

“The state wants to keep those vouchers in southwest Colorado,” she said.

Rather than putting families into low-income housing projects (like Archuleta Housing, also a HUD program), Section 8 vouchers give individuals or families a choice to select single-family homes, townhouses, mobile homes or apartments, if the landlord or owner agrees to accept the voucher.

A qualifying individual or family is responsible for finding a suitable housing unit of the family’s choice where the owner agrees to rent or sell under the program. Once qualified and accepted into the program, voucher recipients pay the difference of rent or mortgage covered by Section 8 subsidies.

Nationally, Section 8 pays a substantial portion of rents or mortgages for about 2.1 million households, with payments capped at $2,200 a month.

jim@pagosasun.com

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