A public housing advocacy group is upset over plans by the Salt Lake City Housing Authority to sell low-income units to finance construction of affordable housing projects.
Tim Funk, housing program director for the nonprofit Crossroads Urban Center, on Monday criticized the plan and Housing Authority board members for supporting it.
"You're doing a terrible job in public housing," Funk told board members.
Funk contends the Housing Authority's actions will force low-income people out of their homes and into smaller residences and, in some cases, onto the street.
"You're hurting people," he said. "This is not a good plan."
The Salt Lake City Housing Authority is planning to sell approximately 120 residences and leverage profits to build 420 units that meet U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development requirements.
"It makes all the sense in the world," said David Mansell, Housing Authority board chairman. "I think we're doing this in a very responsible way."
The Housing Authority has a waiting list of nearly 9,000 families requesting Section 8 vouchers for rent assistance, said Doug Sterling, resident representative on the Housing Authority board. Those living in Section 8 housing pay 30 percent of their adjusted income for rent and utilities.
Despite the ever-increasing demand, federal funding for public housing is decreasing, Sterling said. The Housing Authority received about $270,000 less in federal funding for 2008 than the previous year.
"We have to expand," Sterling said, "and the only way we can expand is to do what we're doing. The money doesn't grow on trees, and it doesn't fall out of the sky."
The crux of the disagreement is the difference between public housing and affordable housing. Funk said families living in low-income public housing and paying 30 percent of their adjusted income would not be able to find comparable accommodations in the Section 8 program.
"If you know the real estate market, you know that low-income apartments that are three and four bedrooms are impossible to find," he said. "At a time when people can't find apartments, you're evicting them."
Bill Nighswonger, executive director of the Housing Authority, made it clear that no one has been evicted from their homes and that they won't be.
"They can stay in public housing," Nighswonger said. "We can relocate them to other public housing units."
At least 85 percent of those in public housing are on the Section 8 waiting list, he said.
Funk disputed the numbers and even called for the Housing Authority to give up its charter and become a nonprofit developer of affordable housing.
"You can build in whatever stats you want to forgive yourself for this sin," Funk said to Nighswonger. "It's the day after Easter, and it's a sin. You should resurrect yourself and be a good boy."
The Housing Authority's plans to sell the 120 units were approved by former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and has the support of new Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council, Nighswonger said.
"It seems to me we're really taking a situation and making it much better for low-income people and families who need housing," Becker said in an interview Monday.Funk said he agrees some property should be sold to finance other housing projects, but not on the scale of the Housing Authority's plans. He favors selling about four or five a year.
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