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Out on the street

Hundreds in the Springs could lose housing assistance under Bush proposal


Kristine Wallace, who receives section 8 housing vouchers, worries that those who lose their vouchers might become homeless. - BRUCE ELLIOTT
  • Bruce Elliott
  • Kristine Wallace, who receives section 8 housing vouchers, worries that those who lose their vouchers might become homeless.

With two children and a cat, Kristine Wallace's modest two-bedroom apartment tends to get a bit cramped. But it's a roof over their heads -- one Wallace wouldn't be able to afford without federal assistance.

Wallace, 36, has been receiving Section 8 housing vouchers from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development since July of 2001, when she got into the program after being on the waiting list for more than 18 months. The timing was fortuitous; just a month after she got in, she lost her customer-service job.

"It was a godsend that I got this," Wallace says, sitting on the steps of the fourplex she calls home, on the west side of the Springs. "If I didn't have it, I'd be out in the streets, with two kids."

Still unemployed, Wallace depends on child support payments, food stamps and welfare payments, along with her housing vouchers, which cover $600 out of her monthly $677 rent payment. She's undergoing vocational training and performing volunteer work through the state's welfare-to-work program, hoping to eventually land a job.

"The idea is to make sure that you have a chance to get back on your feet," she says of the voucher program.

Close to serious'

Wallace is one of 2,500 people in El Paso County who receive Section 8 vouchers, distributed through the Colorado Springs Housing Authority to qualified applicants, who must earn less than 50 percent of the area's median income. Another 5,400 people are on the waiting list for the program, and the typical wait time is two years.

The wait time could grow much longer, however, if a proposal by the Bush administration to cut Section 8 funding in the 2005 federal budget is approved by Congress.

Bush has asked for a $1.8-billion reduction in the voucher program. That's less than 1 percent of the money the administration has requested for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- but it could have a big impact on the voucher program.

Locally, the cut would lead to a 17-percent reduction in the $17-million voucher budget of the Colorado Springs Housing Authority, according to the agency's director, Richard Sullivan. That, he says, would translate into a loss of 300 local vouchers.

The loss comes on top of an expected cut of 100 vouchers between now and September, caused by a bureaucratic change in the Section 8 funding formula, Sullivan says.

Though the Bush administration has proposed cutting the Section 8 budget for the last several years, Congress has thus far insisted on maintaining the funding. But with skyrocketing budget deficits and the cost of the ongoing wars, pressure is growing to cut domestic spending.

"At some point, it will happen," Sullivan predicted. "It's getting real close to serious."

Allard lobbied

Wallace worries about the impact of 300 people losing their vouchers. Some might be able to make up the difference somehow; others might stay with friends. Some will probably end up homeless, adding to the strain on soup kitchens, shelters and social services agencies.

"That's only going to cause more problems," Wallace warned.

In Colorado Springs, the Housing Advocacy Coalition -- a nonprofit that advocates for affordable housing -- has lobbied U.S. Sen. Wayne Allard of Colorado to fight for continued Section 8 funding. Allard is chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation.

"He has a huge say about how this goes," said Derek Krehbiel, a Housing Advocacy Coalition organizer.

Allard and his staff have listened to the concerns, but the senator has made no commitment to protecting the Section 8 funding, Krehbiel said.

A spokeswoman for Allard did not respond to messages seeking comment by press time.

-- Terje Langeland

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