Automatic federal cuts squeeze local public-housing dollars -- Gazette.Net


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Cuts to federally funded housing programs have forced the Housing Opportunities Commission (HOC) of Montgomery County to eliminate 18 positions and make program changes.

But how HOC has handled its workforce reduction has upset its employee union, which is ready to fight back, said Carlos Mellott, field organizer with United Food and Commercial Workers/Municipal and County Government Employees Organization Local 1996 (MCGEO), which represents some HOC employees.

Not all of the 18 positions scheduled for reduction are currently filled, HOC Executive Director Stacy Spann said, but seven are filled with members of MCGEO.

Automatic federal cuts have affected the administrative fees provided to the Housing Opportunities Commission for the Housing Choice Voucher and public housing programs by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Spann said.

On Monday, Spann would not detail exactly how much federal funding would be cut from the programs, saying the numbers are still preliminary but said the two programs likely will be cut in future years, too.

The automatic federal cuts were triggered March 1 when lawmakers on Capitol Hill failed to reach a spending compromise, allowing 10 years of across-the-board cuts — aimed at reducing federal spending by $1 trillion — to go into effect.

“As painful as they are, these are the fiscal realities that we don’t have any ability to control,” Spann said.

Mellott said Friday no one likes a workforce reduction, but he questioned how the HOC already can forecast the effect of the federal cuts when most agencies are still determining how to meet the mandate.

“If it’s something they have to do, can justify and are going to follow the process, it’s another story,” Mellott said. “Apparently, the executive director is making changes he feels appropriate for operational needs.”

But MCGEO feels the proper process has not been followed and plans to fight back aggressively, Mellott said.

HOC employees protested the cuts during an April 3 HOC meeting.

Mellott said the union got a call last week to be at a meeting the next day where it learned positions would be eliminated.

Giving the union less than 24 hours notice is not a good way for management to work with labor, he said.

Maryland law requires a union to be involved when its members’ jobs are cut. Mellott said that should go beyond telling the union to just be at a meeting the next day.

Spann said the HOC has involved the union and is still in negotiations with MCGEO.

“This isn’t about me or MCGEO,” he said. “This is about first, our clients, and second, our employees.” “These are gut-wrenching decisions. No one wants to make these decisions, and when forced to make them because of externalities beyond one’s control, we are doing everything we can to make sure folks have the softest landing possible,” Spann continued. “No one is going to be happy with that. It’s a tough decision. It’s my job to make sure we have an enduring institution that provides a high level of service for folks.”

Currently, HOC provides about 6,000 Housing Choice Vouchers and has about 1,500 public housing clients. It also serves those in opportunity housing, Spann said.

All told, the HOC serves about 10,000 people in Montgomery County.

Since the economic downturn of 2008, the number of people turning to HOC’s services has increased. It currently has thousands of people on a waiting list, which is closed.

In that same time, Spann said, the HOC has absorbed other cuts to its funding.

This time, the cut was more painful, he said.

HOC employees losing their jobs can vie for opportunities that open with HOC, get help with their job searces, and get personal and professional recommendations, he said.

kalexander@gazette.net