County pursues Section 8 program

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Moffat County plans to take its first steps toward assuming control of the area's 72 Section 8 housing vouchers within the next month.

After a workshop meeting with representatives from the Grand Junction and Moffat County housing authorities, the Moffat County Commission decided to pursue a contract with GJHA to handle all residential inspections of Section 8 rentals.

Section 8 vouchers pay the majority of a person or family's rent if they qualify for the program. Eligibility is based on income and number of children.

Everyone present agreed it would be in the best interest of Moffat County to administer its own vouchers.

Commissioner Tom Gray said taking on inspection duties would be a way for local Housing Authority officials to "get their feet wet" with the program before taking all responsibilities.

After the meeting, he added the county is, for now, committed to taking on Section 8 vouchers in the future.

"Absolutely, that's the intent," Gray said. "I don't see any red flags that make me pause."

Grand Junction officials took control of the program Nov. 5, 2008, at the request of the Colorado Division of Housing.

Lori Rosendahl, GJHA director of operations, started the meeting by saying she had to clear up some of the "rumors" surrounding her agency's intent with the local voucher program.

"We have no interest in taking these vouchers to Mesa County for ourselves," she said. "If we did, we would have just taken them when the state Division of Housing offered them to us. That is absolutely untrue. Not a single, solitary voucher has left this community."

However, Rosendahl added her agency will not be able to afford administering Section 8 vouchers in Moffat County past the June 30, 2010, deadline written into its contract with the state.

Grand Junction officials wanted to take on the program temporarily because they felt Moffat County's need was too great to not step in as a stopgap for the local program.

But, GJHA cannot afford to send staffers on 300-mile roundtrips indefinitely.

"I can't say we would be willing to operate the program any longer," Rosendahl said, adding that GJHA might start transferring vouchers to Mesa County at that point if the county is unable to find an organization to take on the costs.

The transition from the Independent Life Center - a Craig-based nonprofit, which administered the vouchers before GJHA - has not been entirely smooth.

Through their work since taking on the 72 local vouchers, Rosendahl added GJHA officials have increased rents for some local Section 8 tenants.

People were upset about the increase, but their original rents were figured improperly, and an independent law firm representing the tenants found no errors in the increase, she said.

However, GJHA has not had the funding problems the Independent Life Center cited before the state took the program away, and Rosendahl said the county wouldn't either if it took on the vouchers permanently.

As long as county officials don't overextend themselves, she added.

The government pays for program administrators to process vouchers, making sure recipients are eligible and conducting the necessary interviews and inspections, Rosendahl said.

The government does not pay for Section 8 staff to be caseworkers, she said.

"You can help them the best you can, but sitting down with someone to go over their budget and help them find a place to live, you don't get paid for that," Rosendahl said. "If you start getting involved with every one of those 72 families, it won't work."

There is another option, though, she said. GJHA partners with other agencies - such as Social Services - to help certain people.

It has brought the Grand Junction human services community together in new and stronger ways, she added.

"Working with partners is what really makes this voucher program successful," Rosendahl said. "You can't do it all on your own. In that way, this program could really unite this community."

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