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WHA cuts jobs, services; 16 layoffs from cuts in fed funds.

Byline: Scott J. Croteau

WORCESTER - The Worcester Housing Authority has eliminated 16 jobs, 13 of which resulted in people being laid off, after losing millions of dollars in federal housing funds.

Executive Director Raymond V. Mariano said many of the layoffs have already occurred, but all staff members who lost their jobs will be gone by the end of the month. All have been notified. The authority has about 200 employees.

At the WHA's board meeting Thursday, the commissioners approved a fiscal 2014 budget of $55.5 million, a decrease from the $58.1 million in the current budget. The WHA's fiscal year begins April 1.

Calling fiscal 2014 the most austere budget in years, Mr. Mariano said the WHA faced a $4.1 million deficit, $3 million of which came from the loss of federal housing subsidies. The remaining $1.1 million was caused by health care cost increases and other costs.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development subsidy was cut from 95 percent to 81 percent, and the subsidy for leased housing (Section 8) was reduced to 69 percent.

"Trying to make up a deficit of this size is daunting," Mr. Mariano said. "No matter what we do, there will be an impact on our staff and on the residents that we serve."

The WHA will raise rents for residents with Section 8 vouchers. The rent increases will take effect May 1, and a second series of increases will take place May 1, 2014. Rents for those with Section 8 vouchers will go up anywhere from $35 to $75 in the first round of increases. By the time the second increase takes effect, the rent increase for residents with Section 8 vouchers will total $150 to $200 over the two years.

Mr. Mariano said fees for responding to late night lockouts will also increase.

Other changes include the elimination of security motor patrols that visit the WHA's major properties from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m.; a reduction in police detail services; reduced overtime and temporary worker budgets.

There will also be less transportation for senior and disabled residents, Mr. Mariano said.

Fewer people will be available to help residents with social services. The authority will not be able to assist residents seeking employment.

"However, I am happy to report that all of our core services will be maintained," Mr. Mariano said. "Unless things change in our funding, we are prepared to provide full maintenance and management services to all of our residents. These services will not be affected by the cuts made for this budget."

The WHA took $1.95 million out of the capital fund - money that was going to be used to modernize some facilities - and applied it to the budget deficit. That allowed the WHA to save 25 to 30 full-time positions from being cut, Mr. Mariano said.

The remaining budget gap of roughly $1.3 million will need to be made from current reserves and careful control over the budget. Mr. Mariano said the budget was designed so the WHA could survive three lean years.

Part of the job cuts involve the loss of one-and-a-half fraud investigator positions, leaving the WHA with two. Mr. Mariano said investigators will still aggressively look into fraud, but some of the lesser infractions might have to be handled by management.

WHA officials will continue to monitor the federal budget cuts.

"The situation in Washington is so volatile that we cannot be assured of any specific level of funding," Mr. Mariano said. "That means that we may be forced to make additional budget cuts during the year."

Contact Scott J. Croteau at Follow Scott J. Croteau on Twitter atScottCroteauTG


CUTLINE: Mr. Mariano
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 22, 2013
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