Our view: Not the time to cut housing helpCounty Commissioner Lisa Weik, who is arguing to cut taxpayer funding for the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, compared it to 4-H, saying both were non-essential services.
County Commissioner Lisa Weik, who is arguing to cut taxpayer funding for the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, compared it to 4-H, saying both were non-essential services.
Before attempting to follow through with such a bold idea, Weik may want to consider that 920 households in Washington County, a third of them made up of seniors, depend on the county housing and redevelopment authority for low-cost, quality rental housing.
In other words, here’s a simple way to differentiate between 4-H and the Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority: one of them provides the basic need of shelter, and one of them doesn’t.
Affordable housing might be non-essential if you’re pulling in $52,713, the rate that Washington County commissioners make, but it can be critical if you have a household income of $28,000, the average of those who live in the authority’s affordable housing units.
The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority provides affordable rental housing throughout the county, including senior housing at Cobble Hill Apartments in Woodbury and Pioneer Apartments in St. Paul Park, but that’s not all the authority does.
Three staff members there provide free counseling to new homeowners and homeowners at risk of foreclosure. In the past year, these counselors have helped 267 households avoid a sheriff’s sale and keep their homes, often by helping the homeowners renegotiate the terms of their mortgage with their lender.
The authority is also addressing the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis, by working with the city of Cottage Grove using federal funds from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program to buy up vacant, foreclosed homes at risk of blighting the surrounding neighborhoods and rehabilitating them. This is one example among many of how the authority works with city governments to help them reach housing development goals.
Lastly, the housing and redevelopment authority administers rental assistance programs like Section 8 and Bridges, which benefit the elderly, families with children and people with disabilities.
Weik said funding for the authority ought to be cut due to the “economic crisis facing taxpayers.” We say that’s something to discuss in the future, but not without a thorough analysis of the authority’s budget and services and the impact those services have on the community from a long-term perspective. And because there is no time in recent memory when the need for foreclosure prevention and affordable housing services has been greater than it is now, this is not the opportune time to discontinue funding.
Why would we cut these services that county taxpayers have been putting their money toward for years just at the time when many of our citizens need them most? Many families who never would have expected it are now facing foreclosure. Others are watching a foreclosed house in their neighborhood fall into disrepair, hoping it doesn’t bring down their home’s value along with it. Still others might need affordable rental housing due to a job loss or pay cut.
As County Commissioner Myra Peterson pointed out, drastically cutting the authority’s funding now could actually cost taxpayers more in the end, as the county backed bonds that the housing and redevelopment authority is currently repaying.
We do applaud any effort from government officials to cut costs for taxpayers, and once we begin to see the effects of the foreclosure crisis and the recession waning in Washington County, perhaps county and housing and redevelopment authority officials can figure out a way to wean the organization off taxpayer funding, which now makes up about 20 percent of its budget. But not in the midst of this perfect storm.