RHA Offers Buyouts, Braces for Cuts

By Jeff Kolkey

Staff writer

ROCKFORD — The Rockford Housing Authority is bracing for potential federal budget cuts, offering employees a buyout in hopes of reducing staff.

Executive Director Laura Snyder said the Housing Authority must be prepared if the Trump administration’s proposed 16% cut to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is implemented in fiscal year 2020. The proposed cuts target “lower value HUD programs for elimination or reduction,” according to a news release from HUD.

Snyder said that could mean crippling cuts, especially for operations of RHA’s 1,702 units of low-income public housing. Funding levels might not be known until the fiscal year begins in October — when a potential government shutdown also looms that could further strain RHA’s ability to pay staff and the landlords who rent to poor families with government assistance.

In preparation for the potential turmoil, Snyder said RHA is working to come up with a plan to restructure the organization and improve efficiency. It is also taking steps to reduce staffing levels in case of federal funding cuts and has offered employees a voluntary buyout.

“I think anybody relying on federal funding is taking any cost saving measure they can,” Snyder said.

Other housing authorities across the country are taking steps to reduce costs, improve efficiency and identify new sources of grant revenue, said Adrianne Todman, CEO of the Washington, D.C. based National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials.

The Trump administration said its $44.1 billion proposed HUD budget preserves rental subsidies, increases assistance for the homeless and invests in the reduction of lead in homes. It would also include See RHA, A4




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rent increases for those able to work, not including the elderly or disabled.

Todman said public housing authorities have seen funding reductions for years, but that the Trump proposal would put zero dollars toward capital expenses, the money that goes to things like fixing leaky roofs at public housing complexes, and it would gut operating funds for administering housing vouchers.

“The proposal itself would be devastating to public housing,” Todman said, noting it’s a proposal that must first be approved by Congress.

The Rockford Housing Authority’s voluntary layoff option offers employees 30 days’ severance, 30 days of benefits, vacation payouts and a promise not to contest unemployment claims. Employees had until April 4 to express interest.

It’s up to RHA, based on its staffing needs, whether to accept.

Staffing levels at RHA

have grown 37 percent over the past five years, to the equivalent of 88 full-time employees from 64, Snyder said, still lower than its high of 140 employees reached before the Great Recession.

AFSCME Council 31 Staff Representative Christopher Hooser said four of the roughly 40 employees represented by the union at RHA expressed interest in the buyout. That should be enough to stave off forced layoffs for the time being.

“If the federal government doesn’t start properly funding our public housing authorities, we could be back in discussions in the future,” Hooser said. “This really boils down to the government not properly funding public housing.”

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, said she will oppose the proposed budget that she said not only would slash funding for affordable housing, but would also increase rent for some of the nation’s poorest families.

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Jeff Kolkey: 815-9871374; jkolkey@rrstar. com; @jeffkolkey