The $11.7 million awarded to Rhode Island’s 25 housing authorities this past summer might sound like a windfall. According to urban housing-authority executive directors, it is anything but.
The Capital Fund money that comes to public-housing agencies every year is meant to help pay for large-scale improvements, like re-flooring of the community for the Burns Manor elderly complex or expansion of a parking lot at the Fogarty Manor elderly high rise, both in Pawtucket, said Stephen A. Vadnais, executive director of the city’s Housing Authority.
Those projects are on the drawing boards now that approximately $1.1 million has been awarded to the city authority, he said.
But the predicament that urban public-housing authorities are in, say Vadnais and his counterparts in Providence and Woonsocket, is that while the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development invested in public housing in the 1940s, continual federal funding cuts over the past three years have left municipal authorities stuck managing deferred maintenance in their strategic plans.
The risk, they say, is that the older housing units could become uninhabitable relatively soon if ways to fund major renovations aren’t found.
“We could continue to hobble along five, 10 years, at current funding levels,” said Vadnais. “But if … they continue to cut capital funds, maybe that whole process of deterioration of housing stock speeds up. … These developments were built with money from the federal government and we’re not given the resources to maintain our investment.”
Added Robert Kulik, executive director for the Woonsocket Housing Authority: “Yearly funding we get is grossly inadequate. It was $2.5 million (last year). It’s now $1.8 million. Congress has not stepped up to the plate as far as I’m concerned. If they want to have public housing, they need to fund it. If they don’t, they need to close the doors on some of these older developments.”
Enter two creative solutions – both from HUD.
The first, a pilot program called the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program, is a new financing tool designed to enable public-housing authorities and private owners of multifamily developments to borrow money from private lenders to finance major improvements while using operating receipts, instead of capital funds, to pay back the loans.