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Housing advocates expressed relief Friday after President Donald Trump agreed to reopen the government for three weeks, potentially averting a crisis for programs that help low-income families make rent.
Dallas-area landlords and others had warned this week that a prolonged shutdown would cause funding to dry up for housing programs that support seniors, veterans, disabled people and other vulnerable tenants.
Still, uncertainty remains about whether the Housing and Urban Development Department will have enough time to renew hundreds of contracts with landlords by Feb. 15 — and whether lawmakers will provide the funding to back them.
The big question, said Texas Tenants’ Union Executive Director Sandy Rollins, is: “Can you fit more than a month of work in a three-week period?”
As of early Friday, HUD was set to run out of money for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, or Section 8, by March. The agency’s top rental assistance program helps tenants cover rent at any private property where the landlord accepts government vouchers.
A spokeswoman for the Dallas Housing Authority, a public housing agency that receives federal money to administer vouchers, said the temporary end of the shutdown doesn’t fix anything — at least until HUD reopens and gives guidance about where everything stands.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said three weeks isn’t enough time for the feds to catch up on their work, or for landlords to have “any real assurance” that the government will pay its bills the following month. In a prepared statement, she urged the Trump administration and lawmakers to immediately pass housing funds for another year.
“Only with full-year spending bills will low-income renters have the security they deserve, and will the programs that serve them have the assurance of the long-term funding they need to properly function,” Yentel said.
Trump vowed before and during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22, that he wouldn’t sign any spending measure that failed to fund a border wall with Mexico — a prominent campaign promise that he has cast as a matter of national security. On Friday, Trump threatened to invoke emergency powers to move ahead with wall construction if lawmakers don’t provide funds by Feb. 15.
Among those served by HUD, the people first in line to feel the pinch were landlords who have contracts to provide housing for seniors and disabled residents.
During the shutdown, the feds weren’t able to renew contracts with landlords who receive federal subsidies for housing eligible tenants.
Three of those contracts in the Dallas area expired on New Year’s Eve, though at least one of those landlords got a renewal with funding before the shutdown began. Seven other agreements were set to run out by next week or the end of February, according to data compiled by the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
About 450 units are covered by those contracts. Among them are Umphress Terrace in Pleasant Grove and three complexes managed by Plano Community Homes — all senior communities.
Under the contracts, tenants pay a portion of their rent based on their income and the federal housing program pays the balance directly to the landlord.
HUD had asked landlords to use their reserve funds to cover rental costs until the government reopened, according to a Jan. 4 memo obtained by The Washington Post. The department promised reimbursement after the record shutdown ended.
CC Young, the faith-based nonprofit that operates the 53-unit Umphress Terrace, said Thursday that it wasn’t imperiled even though its HUD contract was set to expire next week.
“We were in touch with HUD about the annual renewal before the shutdown and do not anticipate any issues going forward,” said Jennifer Griffin, CC Young’s communications director.
A HUD contract with Fairoaks of Denton — a 40-unit senior housing complex under nonprofit Plano Community Home Sponsor Inc. — expired Dec. 31, but a new agreement was processed before the shutdown, said Lee Ann Hubanks, the nonprofit’s president. The new agreement secured funds for that property.
However, two other communities managed by the Plano group have contracts set to expire at the end of February. Hubanks said Friday that HUD had already agreed to renew those contracts, but she’s not clear whether the federal agency will be able to obtain the funds in the next three weeks to make payments in March and afterward.
No tenants will be evicted because of government delays, Hubanks said. If another shutdown begins and no federal payments come, the nonprofit plans to dip into its savings.
“I absolutely will follow through and make sure that everything gets taken care of properly, but I’m not panicked over it,” Hubanks said Friday afternoon.
Castleglen Apartments in Garland, a 39-unit senior community run by Volunteers of America, has a HUD contract that expires next week, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The property manager didn’t return a message seeking comment Thursday.
Tenants in these complexes might have an advantage over participants in other rental assistance programs. HUD-subsidized properties dedicated to seniors and disabled residents are usually “extremely reluctant to displace tenants for government failure” because they’re owned by nonprofits, according to the National Housing Law Project, a San Francisco-based advocacy group.
For now, the next few months look hazy for Section 8 voucher holders.
"I believe it’s a test, and they’re just playing with everyone," voucher holder Odette Edwards said Friday, a few minutes after Trump reopened the government. "A test to see how people will react. And I’m scared. Because this is a stressful moment.”
For a decade, Edwards was a resident in the Bryan Song Apartments in Old East Dallas. She was recently forced to move for the complex’s high-end makeover.
Since the shutdown began in late December, Edwards has told fellow voucher-holders to keep paying their share of rent. She repeatedly reminded them that HUD will eventually pay landlords, and landlords know this.
She said she’s glad the shutdown has come to an end. But concerned, too, that relief might not last.
“OK, you got three more weeks,” she said. “Then what? You’re sitting in the White House; your family is well taken care of. But you got people out here needing help.”
Tenants on vouchers, she said, “all feel like we’re caught in the middle, and everyone is trying to figure out their next step.”
In 2013, the median income of a voucher-assisted household was just over $10,000 per year, per HUD statistics. About 2.2 million households nationwide and nearly 150,000 Texas families rely on Section 8 vouchers, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a policy research group.
Thousands of public housing agencies across the country, including the Dallas Housing Authority, receive money from HUD to administer the voucher program.
Not enough reserves
In Garland, more than 1,500 families use the vouchers for apartments with 750 landlords, said Steve Fitch, executive director of Garland Housing Authority. The authority’s portion of the rent paid to landlords is $900,000 a month, but the agency only has about $100,000 in reserves — not enough to meet even one month of needs if necessary.
“I’m not about to pick and choose which landlord gets paid and which one doesn’t,” Fitch said Friday morning before Trump announced the shutdown’s end.
Some affordable housing advocates feared a prolonged shutdown could have led to landlords charging tenants the full rent to replace the loss of federal funds.
Rollins, of the Texas Tenants’ Union, said some landlords in other states had already started giving tenants notice that they owed market rent for their units.
Fitch said landlords can’t force tenants to pay more than their share under the voucher program or evict tenants because of government delays. But Fitch didn’t rule out the possibility of landlords going to court if they don’t get paid.
Rollins also said the federal shutdown made low-income families even more vulnerable by discouraging landlords from participating in the voucher program, which is voluntary in Texas and is often criticized as a bureaucratic hassle.
Looking to springtime
Another organization that felt anxious about the shutdown was Catholic Charities of Dallas, which runs St. Jude Center in northwest Dallas, a $6 million facility carved out of a former assisted-living facility.
Funded, in part, with city and county dollars, St. Jude Center houses 104 units for the homeless ages 55 and older. Tenants there have their rents subsidized using project-based vouchers — that is, vouchers that pay for units in specific properties rather than for the people who live in those units.
St. Jude faced trouble from the moment it opened its doors: DHA had hoped to provide the vouchers needed to fill the facility. But when the agency hit a budget shortfall due to rising rents in the area, leadership said, Catholic Charities was forced to ask the city, county and area nonprofits to pick up the slack. They did — but with the understanding that the feds would help by spring.
“It’s about to be a mess if Washington doesn’t get it together,” Dave Woodyard, CEO of Catholic Charities of Dallas, said Thursday, before the shutdown ended. “We are meeting with various folks [at the] city and county and private to stay ahead of this as best we can.”
Woodyard couldn’t be reached for comment late Friday afternoon.