Housing solutions not easy

Officials: Assiatnce guidelines don;t mesh with reality

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— Low-income residents on the waiting list for housing vouchers in Moffat County discovered in May that funding cuts meant there is no waiting list.

What they may not know is the situation could get worse before it gets better.

As of January, there were 46,000 U.S. residents on waiting lists for housing vouchers. Funds for the vouchers were cut this year.

Next year, those funds will be cut by another $1.6 billion and funds will continue to be cut until 2009.

"Homeland security begins with a home and that's where our focus needs to be," said Ed Talbot, manager for Arvada's Office of Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization.

More than 200 elected officials and city staff members attended Thursday's Colorado Municipal League session on affordable and attainable housing. The conference is being held this week at the Steamboat Sheraton Resort and Conference Center.

At issue was not the number of federal dollars appropriated for housing subsidies -- some argued they were adequate -- but the federal formula that determines how those dollars are used and who qualifies.

Kathi Williams, Director of the Colorado Division of Housing, is working with U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard, R-Colo., to revise the method for determining a county's median income -- a figure on which most housing assistance programs are based. What Williams wants to do is be able to extract the highest incomes from the formula so they don't skew the results.

"Housing is a critical part of a community's economic development and quality of life," she said. "We're at a crossroads of housing. It's an entirely different market now than even two years ago." The statewide vacancy survey indicates housing vacancies are at an all-time high, and the number of working homeless is up. What that means to her, she said, is that federal income guidelines for assistance are too high and that rental rates aren't decreasing in tune with the economy. "Landlords think the economic slump is temporary," she said.

Williams also is working to get more flexibility built into the provisions of the Federal Housing Act, saying that there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution. "What I've found is that Colorado does not fit the same size as the rest of the nation," she said. "We need to tailor programs that fit the needs of your individual communities."

The Joint Center for Housing Studies defines housing costs as "burdensome" when they exceed 30 percent of a household's total income. In Moffat County, 17 percent of those renting houses and 28 percent of homeowners fall into that category.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or e-mail ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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