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SMHA to cut jobs

Springfield agency faces $400K in budget cuts.

The Springfield Metropolitan Housing Authority decided to eliminate five jobs Tuesday due to the federal government’s sequestration process and other budget cuts totalling $400,000.

The housing authority didn’t identify which positions would be cut or if they would have any effect on tenants. It also reduced management hours at a three-hour special board meeting Tuesday morning, which was mostly spent in executive session.

“We’re going to have to make some unavoidable reductions in staffing levels,” said SMHA board Vice Chairman Kent Sherry. “It’s based on what we know at this point.”

The authority’s budget — which comes almost entirely from the federal government and tenant rent payments — was reduced about $400,000 this year. In 2012, the total budget was $2.5 million. This year, it’s $2.1 million.

SMHA’s low-income public housing operating subsidy was cut by 17 percent this month, according to documents obtained by the Springfield News-Sun. The agency’s operating subsidy for its Housing Choice Vouchers, also known as Section 8 rent stipends, is also expected to be reduced by 31 percent in April.

Those cuts in the federal funds prompted the local jobs cuts, Sherry said.

In addition to the reduction in work force, SMHA Executive Director Par Tolliver said management will trim its hours to four days per week for a possible 12 months.

SMHA currently has 37 employees, including 30 full-time, four part-time and three temporary/seasonal employees.

Tolliver and Sherry called making the cuts “very hard.”

The board ran all sorts of different scenarios in an attempt to keep its employees, Sherry said, but the reduced budget numbers meant cuts had to be made.

“We want to take care of the community we serve, and this makes it very tough,” Sherry said.

With the uncertainty in Washington over the automatic, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration that went into effect March 1 when Congress and the president couldn’t reach a budget deal, Tolliver said more cuts could be made in the future.

“We just never know,” Tolliver said. “We may have to revisit this … That’s pretty much where a number of housing authorities are right now. There’s just uncertainty based on what Congress is doing.”

The housing authority operates 640 units for more than 1,000 people throughout Springfield. It’s funded through U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In April of 2012, SMHA had to return $152,000 in stimulus grants after an audit by HUD’s regional inspector general found they had misused funds, spending the money on services not covered in the Reinvestment Act of 2009 Public Housing Capital Fund Stimulus Recovery Act.

The housing authority also scored a 70 out of 100 on its last Public Housing Assessment System overall report, which resulted in a substandard financial designation.

Last month, HUD ordered SMHA to raise the rate of its low-income public housing units from $25 to $50 due to SMHA’s recent substandard designation.

“These are some of the changes we’ve had to make,” Tolliver said. “We’re trying to get this organization back on its feet. That’s the bottom line.”

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