CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority this week warned that the partial government shutdown could directly impact thousands of Hamilton County residents and landlords if it continues past February.
In a letter dated Jan. 22, CMHA's housing choice voucher program director wrote that the housing authority has enough federal funds to pay rental subsidies for February.
"However, there is still uncertainty about funding availability in March," Lisa Isham wrote. "If federal funding is not restored, CMHA would be unable to process Housing Assistance Payments ("HAP") and Utility Allowance Payments ("UAP") until it receives funding or other guidance from HUD."
CMHA issued the letter just days after local affordable housing advocates warned about how the partial government shutdown could harm thousands of local low-income families.
A spokesperson for the housing authority said CMHA has more than 11,000 housing units participating in the housing choice voucher program, also known as Section 8. The program helps families whose incomes aren't high enough to cover the full cost of their rent. Of the people in Hamilton County who take part in the program, 2,382 also get help paying their utility bills through Utility Allowance Payments, CMHA said.
CMHA owns and operates another 5,000 residential units more commonly known as public housing. John Schrider, director of the Legal Aid Society of Southwest Ohio, said it's unclear how the shutdown could impact that.
Legal Aid has been inundated with calls from people who received the letter and are scared, he said.
"We're like in a position of telling people, 'Well, you don't have to worry right this second. But should you be worried? Yeah,'" Schrider said.
The letter offered this comfort to residents: "It should be noted that during a government shutdown, landlords and property owners are prohibited from collecting CMHA's HAP payments from residents and may not use nonpayment of HAP as a cause for eviction. Residents remain responsible for paying their portion of the rent outlined in their contract with their landlord."
Schrider called that "an important message to deliver to the owners."
But the letter doesn't explain how property owners would be expected to pay their own bills if they don't receive the federal funds that CMHA distributes.
In response to WCPO's questions about how the lack of federal payments could impact indivual property owners, a statement from CMHA said "that varies from owner to owner."
Schrider was less diplomatic in his response to the question.
"As soon as the subsidies stop, if God forbid that happens, it's going to be just a terrible mess," Schrider said. "It's a disaster."
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Lucy May writes about the people, places and issues that define our region – to celebrate what makes the Tri-State great and shine a spotlight on issues we need to address. Poverty is an important focus for her and for WCPO. To reach Lucy, email email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @LucyMayCincy.