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January 13, 2014

Housing Authority may try funding change

Flexibility from change would ease operations of public housing

MERCER COUNTY — The federal government has accepted Mercer County Housing Authority into a radical new program that would change how it is funded and lessen its regulations.

The authority has a year to decide whether it wants to participate.

The Rental Assistance Demonstration program – RAD, for short – would allow the authority to be treated more like a private entity that provides the same service, affordable housing, at least in terms of public housing.

The program would not affect the Housing Choice Voucher Program – also known as Section 8 – which the authority manages, or authority-controlled units built with funding by other sources that have specific requirements unrelated to public housing.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been pushing RAD as a way to do something about the aging public housing stock, said authority Executive Director Nannette Livadas. HUD estimates it has $26 billion in unmet maintenance needs for public housing units, with no hope that Congress would ever grant it the money to catch up.

Under RAD, housing authorities would be allowed to borrow money and ask for tax credits for renovation projects, two things it cannot do now, Livadas said.

The idea is to allow individual authorities to borrow money to catch up on their individual capital needs, instead of simply working with the modernization money HUD grants authorities, a declining figure that brings in about $800,000 a year to Mercer County.

The authority’s capital needs for the next five years include replacing roofs, kitchens, bathrooms and windows, Livadas said.

There are other bonuses for authorities that go with RAD, Livadas said, including loosened budgeting requirements and eliminating certain planning requirements and what some see as Draconian procurement procedures.

There also would be a down side, including taking away eligibility for certain grants, such as the safety grant the authority used to install security lights and hire security grants for some communities, and extra money for capital projects, she said. There also would not be any reward for being a high performer under HUD’s annual report card evaluation, which can free up more capital money.

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