Federal budget cuts are threatening to unwind the progress Fairfax County has made over the last several years in preventing and ending homelessness.
Anticipated reductions in the Housing Choice Voucher program will slow down the process of getting families into stable housing situations and is already affecting the plans of some county nonprofits.
Under the program, families pay the equivalent of 30 percent of their gross income in rent, either in the private market or at a property operated by a nonprofit, and the voucher subsidy covers the remainder of the cost. People who are homeless, elderly or have a disability receive priority for a voucher.
Although the county does not yet know for certain how much funding it will lose, county housing officials are preparing for a 6 percent reduction in the program.
The voucher program currently provides rental subsidies for up to 3,537 households in Fairfax County. The budget cuts could mean that the county has to remove as many as 200 households who currently have subsidies from the program, according to Paula Sampson, director of housing and community development for Fairfax County.
“How do you decide who goes? We don’t know,” Sampson said.
The Board of Supervisors is considering using local funds to shore up the program and avoid cutting services to people already receiving help.
Those seeking housing vouchers already encounter a long waiting list for vouchers.
“The only way to get vouchers is through turnover,” Sampson said. On average, about 10 vouchers become available each month.
As of April 1, the county froze all new leases, rescinded vouchers that had already been promised to 54 households and rescinded 90 project-based vouchers — vouchers that support a certain property operated by a nonprofit.
Canceling the project-based vouchers has already had an impact on some county nonprofits’ ability to acquire new housing units for their clients.
This development makes executing the county’s Housing Blueprint, the document that has been guiding the public and nonprofit sector’s efforts to reduce homelessness, a bigger challenge.
“We’re already seeing the impact of this,” said Amanda Andere, executive director of the nonprofit FACETS. “We depend on the vouchers turning over in order to house people who are in our shelters.”
The county will need to use about $2.8 million in local funds, which were already set aside for county-funded rental assistance program, to temporarily close the gap.
By mid-2014, Sampson said, the natural turnover should reduce enrollment sufficiently to accommodate the reduced budget and they can again begin issuing vouchers to people who are on the waiting list.
“It stops the bleeding immediately and it allows us time to work with our partners to retool the blueprint,” said Deputy County Executive Patricia Harrison.
The Board of Supervisors Housing Committee gave tacit approval to this plan Tuesday, although the board won’t actually vote on the funding until the fall.