County discusses running Section 8 program

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Jane Reece, Moffat County Housing Authority director, thinks Moffat County has a responsibility to administer its own Section 8 housing vouchers, if it can.

"I have a huge interest in taking these vouchers into the Housing Authority, where I think they belong," she told County Commissioners Audrey Danner and Tom Gray at a workshop Monday morning.

The program will not be a light undertaking.

A coordinator must work with federal and state agencies to distribute rent subsidies for low-income families, seniors and the disabled.

As involved as that may be, though, housing vouchers are important, Reece said.

"When we have people move here or when we have people contact us, they think we operate like the housing authority in Mesa County or most other places," she said. "They say they're looking for a place to live, and we have to tell them we don't operate like that."

Some people need vouchers to afford rent, Reece added, but the county currently faces the prospect of losing them altogether.

"I don't want to see that happen," she said.

The Grand Junction Housing Authority, which now administers the county's 72 vouchers, has the authority to relocate every local voucher to Mesa County if no local organization is willing to take on the program by June 30, 2010.

Local voucher holders would not lose theirs immediately if that were to happen, but as people went off the program - through death or because they no longer were eligible, for instance - their voucher would leave Moffat County for good.

Grand Junction authorities assumed control of the local program after the Colorado Division of Housing ended its contract with the Craig-based Independent Life Center in fall 2008.

According to a Dec. 9, 2008, intergovernmental agreement with Moffat County, GJHA maintained it would not begin transferring local Section 8 vouchers out of the area until the 2010 deadline, unless authorized by the Moffat County Commission.

However, GJHA is legally entitled to transfer vouchers at any time with the Division of Housing's consent.

The agreement also stipulates GJHA will "voluntarily seek to terminate its services : if the county receives the written approval of (the state Division of Housing) on or before June 30, 2010."

Lori Rosendahl, GJHA director of operations, said her office is more than willing to live up to that agreement.

"If the Division of Housing approves it, then of course we would be happy to give (the Moffat County Section 8 program) up," she said.

Divison of Housing officials could not be reached for comment on whether the agency would be interested in contracting with Moffat County or what qualifications the county would have to be meet to be eligible.

However, Grand Junction and state officials aren't the only ones who need to give their OK.

The commissioners were curious how Reece plans to pay for the program if the county takes control.

They liked her answer.

"We have a 25-hour (a week) position that would go away, and we would just make that 40 hours," Reece said. "So it would cost us another 15 hours a week plus full-time benefits. The money we make from the program administering the vouchers would pay for that. I wouldn't want to take it all on if we couldn't handle that."

At the end of Monday's workshop, Gray sounded hopeful that the county could make the Section 8 program work.

"I like it when a plan comes together," he said. "It sounds like this has possibilities."

Program rolling along

The local Section 8 waiting list still is closed to new applicants, Rosendahl said.

Although the state's freeze on new vouchers ended Jan. 1, Moffat County's program is overfilled, she said. Not only are there more than the approved number of vouchers out in the county, but those who had pending vouchers need places to stay.

Several residents had vouchers approved last year, but couldn't use them until the state ended its freeze, Rosendahl said.

Those residents will be helped first, she said, and officials will open the waiting list after they are processed, which could take several weeks.

"We will be able to open the waiting list in the next few months," Rosendahl said.

Collin Smith can be reached at 875-1794 or cesmith@craigdailypress.com

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