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Battle to control HUD housing vouchers

A battle of priorities has led Garfield County Housing Authority to look at cutting state control out of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development voucher program.

The program in question applies not to Garfield County, but to Pitkin, Eagle, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties, which do not run their own “housing choice vouchers” programs, also known as Section 8 housing.

The program is designed for very low-income families, disabled people and the elderly.



Following administrative changes at the state level in the voucher program, GCHA is looking to take over administration of the HUD vouchers for these four surrounding counties.

For Garfield County itself, GCHA administers housing choice vouchers that it gets directly from HUD. And GCHA has previously administered the vouchers for these other four counties on an irregular basis, said Kate Gazunis, GCHA executive director.



But then the state absorbed the voucher program, including for Pitkin, Eagle, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.

GCHA entered a five-year contract with the state in 2013 to administer the vouchers for those counties, which had a combined 106 vouchers at the time.

Since then the state and GCHA have had diverging philosophies concerning the vouchers, she said.

Colorado gives priority to three categories: the homeless, the disabled and victims of domestic violence.

Additionally, the state division of housing now treats the entire state as one service area, so someone qualifying in those categories for a voucher in the metro area, for example, could be bumped up the waiting list for one of GCHA’s vouchers ahead of someone locally, she said.

GCHA has other philosophical differences with the state on how to assign the vouchers, one of which is their definition of homelessness.

“The bottom line is if you’re a single parent with a couple of kids sleeping on somebody’s floor somewhere you don’t meet (the state’s) definition of homeless, and you may never get a voucher,” said Gazunis.

“[The state’s] definition of homeless is living in a car or living at the shelter,” whereas GCHA uses more of a social services definition.

“You’re not living in a place that was designed for your family to sleep, or you’re in a hotel for a short time.”

In January the state froze the issuance of vouchers, which Gazunis speculated was due to an imbalance between the number of available vouchers and the amount of money the state has available to administer them.

“We have issued absolutely no vouchers whatsoever in those adjacent [four] counties since January of this year.”

This also resulted in the number of available vouchers for those surrounding counties dropping from 106 to 57 vouchers.

If GCHA can cut out the state and take control of the vouchers, Gazunis said she hopes it can free up the full 106 dedicated to Pitkin, Eagle, Rio Blanco and Moffat counties.

There are 247 families on a waiting list for Section 8 vouchers in those four counties.

By comparison, GCHA administers 434 vouchers in Garfield County, which it gets directly from HUD rather than having to go through the state.

All of those vouchers are filled, Gazunis said.

GCHA also is looking to pull in more money by cutting the state out of the process. The federal government pays GCHA $72 per month, per voucher. But when they first go through the state division of housing, GCHA gets only $41, partly to pay for state administration, which Gazunis says GCHA already has built into its own program.

“We don’t really have a driving sense of loyalty to the state. But we do have a sense of loyalty to our surrounding counties,” she said.

Because of the state’s “strings and regulations” Gazunis said she is certain the GCHA board will not renew its contract with the state once the five-year contract is up.

So GCHA is looking for a transfer of these vouchers from the state’s control to GCHA’s control, which HUD allows.

First GCHA will have to go to the four neighboring counties and see if they want their vouchers transferred.

Gazunis said she has not approached either the state or the other counties with this proposal.


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