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Stimulus bill provides new funding for housing

Seattle Housing Authority will choose from projects ready to go

SEATTLE—February 26, 2009—Housing authorities received a much-needed boost to their building programs when President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act into law on February 17. For Seattle Housing Authority, this will result in a grant of $17,069,888.

The stimulus package included $4 billion for building projects by housing authorities across the county. By comparison, the annual amount provided by Congress for the Public Housing Capital Fund was $2.3 billion in 2007.

At a press conference on February 17, Seattle Housing Authority Executive Director Tom Tierney joined Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) in praising the effects of the stimulus on affordable housing. "This funding will allow us to get started right now on projects that will get people to work and house hardworking low-wage people, seniors, and disabled people," said Tierney.

Of the $4 billion, $3 billion is being distributed to public housing authorities by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD announced on February 25 how much each housing authority will receive. The decision was arrived at by using the same formula used for regular capital fund amounts.

In order to be eligible, projects must be "shovel ready." This means that they must be started within 120 days and completed within three years. The Seattle Housing Authority developed a list of projects like this totaling more than $45 million. This list became part of the agency’s annual plan as "possible projects that SHA may submit" for stimulus funding. The Board of Commissioners approved this addition to the agency's annual plan at their meeting on February 17.

The list of possible projects included improvements in public housing high-rise buildings—Bell Tower, Denny Terrace and Jefferson Terrace. Other projects could include upgrades to Scattered Sites housing and to apartments at Tri-Court. These upgrades would make the housing more accessible to people with disabilities. Finally, the list included redevelopment projects at High Point and Rainier Vista.

Housing Authority staff members are working on a proposal to the Board of Commissioners with their recommendations of projects to fund. The Board will make the final decision about which projects will use the funding, most likely in March or April.

The remaining $1 billion will be given out through a competitive process. HUD will favor projects that use the funds for partnerships with the private sector. HUD also wants to use the competitive funding for renovations and investments in energy conservation.

Seattle Housing Authority will ask HUD for some of the competitive funding. These grants will be made by the HUD Secretary by September 30, 2009.

The stimulus bill included funding for other affordable housing programs. The Low Income Tax Credit program was awarded $2.5 billion. This funding will help the program work for housing developers during the current credit crunch. If developers have projects that are ready to go, this funding can help them get started without having to wait for a tax-credit investor to participate.

The bill also funds homelessness prevention programs with an additional $1.5 billion and provides $2 billion to help areas where foreclosures threaten neighborhood stability.