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Shutdown Could Impact Renters, Landlords Who Rely on Section 8 Vouchers
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
01:10AM / Friday, January 11, 2019
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Local landlords and recipients of Section 8 housing assistance could start feeling the pinch if the shutdown of the federal government continues much longer.
 
That is the assessment of the chief executive officer of Pittsfield-based Berkshire Housing Development Corp., a nonprofit dedicated to helping provide affordable housing throughout the region.
 
Elton Ogden indicated Wednesday afternoon that the shutdown is not having a major impact on Berkshire Housing or its clients — for now — but he is concerned about "mom and pop" landlords with tenants who rely on the federal subsidies to pay the rent.
 
"It's really the flow of subsidy money where there's a greater potential of people being hurt," Ogden said. "What will happen is the owner of the property won't get the checks.
 
"The blowback is on us and in cases where you have people in the community renting from mom and pop landlords, and all of a sudden, the mom and pop don't have a check from the government. They're not going to be happy with their tenant."
 
And, perhaps more to the point, the landlord won't have the income coming in that he or she is counting on to pay their mortgage, taxes, etc.
 
Ogden said Berkshire Housing has about 600 residents in its properties who receive Section 8 vouchers, which are distributed by municipalities. But that is just one part of the nonprofit's revenue stream.
 
And Berkshire Housing's reserves are adequate to carry the nonprofit through a short-term interruption in rent payments.
 
"If we stop receiving subsidies, we should be able to hold tight for a few months," Ogden said.
 
"But I believe if you took all of the housing authorities in the county, you're probably talking about 2,000 vouchers. I'd say three-quarters of those are going smaller landlords. That's a lot."
 
The shutdown, which began in December, stretched into its 19th day on Wednesday with no end in sight, according to national news reports. At issue is a dispute about $5 billion which President Trump is seeking to build portions of a wall on the border with Mexico. Democratic leaders in Congress — including U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — blame the White House for the impasse that led to the partial government shutdown. The U.S. House has passed legislation to open government that the U.S. Senate refuses to take up.
 
While none of its properties or residents are in any immediate danger, Berkshire Housing is not altogether unaffected by the shutdown.
 
"The main effect at this time is no one is home at [the Department of Housing and Urban Development] to answer the phone," Ogden said. "The normal day-to-day business where we might look for a signature or a signoff on a replacement reserve request from a HUD asset manager, that's not happening.
 
"That's not going to have a major effect on us for the time being."
 
And the shutdown will not affect Berkshire Housing's ability to do things like process new applications for affordable housing.
 
"It wouldn't affect that because we do all that internally," Ogden said. "We just have to follow their rules for qualifying someone and processing someone. The underwriting and signing of the lease is done by us or a housing authority."
 
One of the biggest expenses for any landlord like BHDC is the mortgages on its properties, but Ogden said it has a relatively small percentage of properties that have private mortgages.
 
"In the case of [Williamstown's] Proprietor's Field or [North Adams'] Holy Family, those are FHA/HUD insured mortgages," he said. "If HUD stopped funding the subsidies, the money that would go to pay the mortgage off would stop. They'd essentially have to hold us harmless."
 
For now, the message for residents of Berkshire Housing's 2,000 housing units is: Don't worry about near-term impacts of the shutdown.
 
"I haven't gotten any calls from residents, but I'm not on that direct line, so I'd have to talk to our leasing team," Ogden said. "They're the ones who hear from tenants when they're anxious. I'm sure if they do get calls they're telling them it's too early to panic." 
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