The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Local News

February 23, 2014

Funding, policies could change with new program

MERCER COUNTY — Although they’re still months away from having to make a decision, Mercer County Housing Authority officials are starting to get a sense of how things would change if they decide to participate in a program that would change how the authority is funded.

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.

Under RAD, the authority would be allowed to borrow money and ask for tax credits for renovation projects, two things it cannot do now.

Other bonuses for going with RAD include loosened budgeting and procurement requirements and the elimination of certain planning requirements. Disadvantages would include loss of eligibility for certain grants and rewards for being a high performer under Housing and Urban Development’s annual report card evaluation.

If the authority had been participating in RAD this year, it would have received nearly $4.8 million from the federal government, said Controller Connie Morocco. As it is, the authority expects to get almost $4.3 million, although the actual figure won’t be known until the summer, she said.

RAD would not impact the rents tenants pay immediately, although at least one prospective policy change would affect some tenant rents.

When someone in a resident family gets a job and the family’s income goes up, it can be up to a year before that new income factors into the rent the family pays, said Executive Director Nannette Livadas. With RAD, the new income would be factored into rents much sooner, she said.

RAD also disallows tenants to have pets, unless they are service animals, and would do away with the eight-hour monthly community service requirement for able-bodied tenants with no income.

Although Livadas cautioned that these potential changes are not set in stone, she said residents who participated in a Tenant Advisory Group meeting recently had no problem with them.

The one potential change they did balk at was the requirement that some public housing residents could obtain vouchers to live in privately owned homes and apartments. Officials acknowledged this change would allow public housing residents to circumvent the voucher waiting list.

As part of the RAD review, authority officials are looking at the needs of their buildings and apartments, and what their potential borrowing power would be.

Officials believe they have about $7.8 million in property needs over the next two years, which include roof and hot water tank replacements and the installation of air conditioning in units without them to make the apartments more marketable.

Officials have until October to decide whether to go with RAD.

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