Government Shutdown Puts Section 8 Landlords in Tough Spot

Reading Eagle

Reading landlord Celines Ekvall has received one call after another in recent days from her tenants, all with the same concern.

They’re worried that they’ll be evicted if the government shutdown continues and payments from the Department of Housing and Urban Development stop coming for property owners like Ekvall, who rent out Section 8 properties.

Ekvall, who owns 10 Section 8 apartments in Reading and another 10 in Lancaster, Allentown and Harrisburg, said that she won’t evict anyone. She won’t punish tenants for something that isn’t their fault, she said, but it will be hard for her to continue to pay her bills on those properties without federal reimbursement.

She said that she’s heard from other Section 8 tenants in Reading who are looking for available units, since they’ve been told by their landlords that a continued shutdown would lead to their eviction.

“But I wouldn’t want to do that to my tenants,” Ekvall said, especially to those who are elderly and may have nowhere else to go.

The longest government shutdown in U.S. history reached its 27th day Thursday, and President Donald Trump has said he’s willing to “keep the government closed for a very long period of time – months or even years” unless funding for a border wall with Mexico is approved.

It’s uncertain what that will mean for the approximately 5 million low-income households that are federally subsidized, including the 3,200 in Berks County.

While housing officials and landlords expect federal subsidies will come in early February to pay that month’s rent, HUD appropriations lapsed on Dec. 22. If the shutdown continues, that will probably be the last payment that arrives until a new federal appropriations bill passes and HUD workers are back in full force.

The Reading Housing Authority manages 1,600 units in the city, and Executive Director Daniel F. Luckey said that if payments don’t come in March and the months that follow, the authority will eventually be paid retroactively.

In addition, those tenants pay 30 percent of their rent, and the authority does have $2 million to $3 million in reserve, he said. But that reserve would run out quickly if federal payments stop coming, making it difficult for the authority to meet expenses, such as paying its 70-person staff, keeping buildings maintained and paying utilities, he said.

“I don’t expect the gas and electric and water and sewer bills to stop coming,” he said.

Still, Luckey said that the authority would not resort to evicting tenants.

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