Yvonne Smith proudly displays her Bible, teddy bears and letters from her boyfriend.  (Photo by Halle Stockton / PublicSource)



The squeeze on public housing has come at the end of a long train of economic problems.

Incomes are stagnant and unemployment remains high, making a pathway out of assistance programs difficult.

People who had purchased homes discovered they couldn’t actually afford them and left for apartments, crowding the rental market and driving up rental costs.

Most public housing programs haven’t expanded, and the national trend of tearing down public housing to build mixed-income developments leaves fewer subsidized units.

State and federal budgets are strapped.

In March, Governor Tom Corbett received a note from HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan warning him of a $37.5 million reduction from fiscal year 2012 for funding for rental assistance, homeless assistance, affordable housing and other programs. The cause was the federal sequestration.

The Allegheny County Housing Authority is on track to lose $1.4 million for the year because of the sequestration, said Executive Director Frank Aggazio. The agency laid off 13 people in March and expects to give rental aid to 300 fewer people this year.

What are the solutions?

Put simply, more money and dedication to fixing the housing problem would be an ideal solution.

However, the economy and politics involved continue to put that remedy out of reach.

“There’s really no good answer to this problem except to just provide more housing assistance to people,” Roman said.

Newer interventions attempt to fill the gap.

Some, called rapid re-housing programs, focus on providing money so a family can stay in their current housing situation rather than being moved out and becoming homeless.

Others provide social workers to help families attain jobs and education and meet their financial goals.

Lois Mufuka Martin, executive director of Bethlehem Haven, said that real change will take a national policy that considers housing a basic right.

“As social workers, we go in and fill gaps,” she said. “We’re not being asked to fill gaps. We’re being asked to be the safety net.”

For now, Liz Hersh of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania said she’d be optimistic if President Barack Obama’s budget were adopted, which is not expected, because it would bolster housing authorities and help them reduce wait times.

“Whether waitlists are old or new or big or small, ultimately that’s irrelevant when you’re one of those people living with extreme uncertainty of what are you going to do tomorrow, what will you tell your kids…” she said. “And they are totally solvable problems.”

In her small North Side apartment, Smith proudly displays her Bible, teddy bears and letters from her boyfriend. She cherishes the privacy of her morning ritual, sipping coffee and meditating as the sun shines in her bedroom.

She pays $188 for rent and utilities, about 28 percent of a monthly $660 Social Security disability check.

Smith’s chest puffed up when she shared that one of her daughters had said she was proud of her progress.

“I had to go through a lot of changes to get where I’m at,” she said. “This is my first very own place and I love it because it’s mine. I don’t have much, but that don’t matter.”

Reach Halle Stockton at 412-315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org.

For more investigations from PublicSource visit http://bit.ly/IzpUUd.




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