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By Suzy Khimm and Laura Strickler
The government shutdown means that the long-leaking roof of San Jose Manor II Apartments won’t be replaced anytime soon, says Alma Ballard, who oversees the building for low-income senior citizens in Jacksonville, Florida.
“That’s definitely not going to happen,” said Ballard, executive director of the nonprofit Family Housing Management, who said that water has at times dripped into some residents’ rooms.
Ballard said Family Housing Management had been saving up for a new roof for the 50-unit government-subsidized property, but had to put the plans on hold because its contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development was still in the process of being renewed when the shutdown began. The company never received its December and January payments from HUD, totaling about $40,000, immediately putting the property under financial strain.
The few federal employees left at HUD have been scouring the books, looking for a last-minute solution to fund hundreds of affordable housing contracts that have expired under the shutdown.
More than 200 of the contracts that expired in December are for properties, like San Jose Manor II, that provide rental assistance for the elderly, according to LeadingAge, an association for nonprofit providers of aging services. Known as Section 202, the program houses about 400,000 low-income elderly people as part of HUD’s Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance as well as a separate HUD program.
These tenants are particularly at risk during the shutdown, says Linda Couch, vice president of housing policy for LeadingAge. Despite its scramble for a fix, HUD has not been able to find any stopgap funding to support the Section 202 landlords whose contracts expired in December, Brian Montgomery, HUD’s acting deputy secretary, told Couch in a call on Wednesday evening, according to her account.
While HUD has identified buckets of money that could potentially be used to shore up other low-income rental assistance contracts, including those for disabled adults, HUD has not been able to do so for the elderly housing program because of restrictions on how previously allocated funds can be spent, according to Couch’s notes from her conversation with Montgomery, currently HUD’s second in command.
“HUD has its back up against the wall and has really no good options,” said Couch, who fears the lack of funding could harm some of the most frail and vulnerable Americans.
HUD did not directly address NBC News’ questions about the shortfall of funds for the elderly.
“HUD is actively resolving issues with these pending contracts with owners and identifying available resources for payment,” Jereon Brown, a HUD spokesman, said in a statement.
The affected properties include San Jose Manor II Apartments, whose management has already resorted to its reserve funding to make up for the missing HUD payments — funds that it had been planning to use for replacing the roof, a particular concern in the hurricane-prone area, Ballard said.
Affected residents include Shirley Henderson, 69, who not only receives housing but also medical assistance at the building, thanks to a mobile health unit that checks her glucose and blood pressure, helping to manage her diabetes.
“How long will it still be going on? Will something happen so that life can go back to the way it’s supposed to be?” said Henderson, tearing up as she described the other families across the country affected by the shutdown, whether because of missing paychecks or stalled home purchases.
Henderson pays $232 in rent every month, which is about a quarter of her Social Security check, and she doesn’t know where she’d live if she had to leave the San Jose apartments.
Ballard said the management is doing everything possible to shield its residents, and would ultimately appeal to the property’s sponsor, the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Augustine, for a loan if it runs out of reserve funds. She said no tenants will be evicted as long as they continue paying rent.
Ballard added that it’s not unusual to experience delays in renewing contracts with HUD, so it wasn’t until after New Year’s Day that she realized there might be a problem, as an $18,000 HUD payment she expected was not in the account.
“We came back to work and said, ‘There’s no money,’” she said. “What’s going to happen to us?”
San Jose Manor II Apartments has about $60,000 in reserves, enough to cover about two months’ worth of basic operating and maintenance costs, including utilities, staff payroll and trash removal. If the shutdown lasts that long, nothing would be left for emergency expenses, much less capital repairs like replacing the roof, Ballard said.
“If something major broke, I wouldn’t have the funds to replace it — a refrigerator or a heat pump or a stove,” she said.
And accessing the reserve funds can be a lengthy, bureaucratic process, Ballard said. Many Section 8 properties pay into a reserve fund each month, but they must get approval from HUD to access the money. With 95 percent of the workforce furloughed, the agency is extremely short-staffed.
“We’re getting the brunt of it and have to jump through all these hoops to serve our residents,” said Ballard, who submitted paperwork that got shuffled through multiple HUD offices to access the funds. “This is just crazy — there should have been some type of contingency funds.”
On Wednesday, HUD sent a message to owners of properties whose contracts had expired, or were expiring in January, providing more detailed instructions on how to request reserve funds “if your property is not receiving payment or is experiencing an emergency situation,” according to HUD emails, which the department also forwarded to affordable housing groups and industry associations.
But not all the affected properties have adequate reserves to draw upon, said Couch, with LeadingAge. “What’s the emergency relief mechanism for those communities?” she said, noting that Section 202 landlords are exclusively nonprofits that don’t typically have easy access to outside capital.
House Democrats have begun investigating HUD’s management of the shutdown, criticizing the department’s “failure” to salvage the expiring contracts ahead of time and questioning what happened to $400 million in backup funding for the Section 8 rental assistance program.
HUD has provided just a “slow trickle of information” about the contracts, which has made things harder for landlords and tenants alike, according to Janel Doughten, associate director of the B’nai B’rith International Center for Senior Services, which has provided Section 202 housing for decades and operates properties from Arizona to New Jersey that house about 5,000 residents.
“It creates a sense of panic,” said Mark Olshan, the center’s director and associate executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International. “If I go to my manager and say, ‘What’s happening?’ they say, ‘We don’t know — we can’t get ahold of our HUD office.’ “
Brown, the HUD spokesman, said earlier in the week that the agency was working hard to find money for the properties whose contracts had expired. In its Wednesday email to affected property owners, HUD said that once funding was restored, they would be reimbursed if they had drawn from their reserves.
Since nonprofit organizations are mission-driven, they are especially dedicated to ensuring that their residents are able to stay in their homes, Couch said. But the shutdown could force them to make painful choices. “In the worst-case scenario, they will have to question whether or not they can stay in the affordable housing business,” she said.
That could mean even fewer options for poor senior citizens. The waiting list for San Jose Manor II Apartments is already one year to one-and-a-half years long, according to Ballard, who said that if residents were forced to leave, they wouldn’t have anywhere else to go. “They would live on the street,” she said. “There’s nothing for them.”
CORRECTION (Jan. 11, 2019, 3:36 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly described HUD’s Section 202 program for low-income senior citizens. Section 202 does not solely fall under HUD’s Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance program; it falls under both Section 8 and a HUD program known as Project Rental Assistance Contracts.
Tory ballot vote: What time is second ballot on the Tory leadership today? Who will go?
VOTING commences once again today as Tory MPs undergo a second round at the polls to decide their next leader. What time is the second ballot for the Tory leadership race and who will be kicked off?
Supreme Court declines to change double jeopardy rule in a case with Manafort implications
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court declined on Monday to change the longstanding rule that says putting someone on trial more than once for the same crime does not violate the Constitution’s protection against double jeopardy — a case that drew attention because of its possible implications for President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort.
The 7-2 ruling was a defeat for an Alabama man, Terance Gamble, convicted of robbery in 2008 and pulled over seven years later for a traffic violation. When police found a handgun in his car, he was prosecuted under Alabama’s law barring felons from possessing firearms. The local U.S. attorney then charged Gamble with violating a similar federal law. Because of the added federal conviction, his prison sentence was extended by nearly three years.
The Fifth Amendment says no person shall be “twice put in jeopardy of life or limb” for the same offense. But for more than 160 years, the Supreme Court has ruled that being prosecuted once by a state and again in federal court, or the other way around, for the same crime doesn’t violate the protection against double jeopardy because the states and the federal government are “separate sovereigns.”
The case attracted more than the usual attention because of the prospect that Trump may pardon Manafort, who was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison for violating federal fraud laws. A presidential pardon could free him from federal prison, but it would not protect him from being prosecuted on similar state charges, which were filed by New York. Overturning the rule allowing separate prosecutions for the same offenses would have worked in Manafort’s favor.
Gamble’s lawyer, Louis Chaiten of Cleveland, said the nation’s founders understood the protection against double jeopardy to ban any second prosecution for the same offense. Under English common law, the roots of American law, there was no “separate sovereigns” exception. A person could not be put on trial in England if already tried for the same offense in another country.
Chaiten also argued that the states and the federal government are not truly independent anyway and are instead part of a complete national system. He quoted Alexander Hamilton, who described them as “kindred systems, part of one whole.”
And Chaiten said Congress has made the problem worse by dramatically expanding the number and scope of federal laws in recent years, creating more duplication with state laws — something never envisioned in earlier court decisions that allowed double prosecutions.
But the Trump administration said the longstanding double jeopardy rule allows states and the federal government to pursue distinct interests without interfering with each other. Changing the current understanding by barring subsequent prosecutions would allow foreign court actions to preclude U.S. trials for crimes against Americans, the government said.
Civil liberties groups also said the rule has allowed the federal government to pursue notorious civil rights violations that states were unwilling or unable to pursue.
Gamble’s argument appealed to some of the court’s liberals and conservatives. Two years ago, conservative Justice Clarence Thomas joined liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in saying that the court’s past double jeopardy rulings were due for a “fresh examination.”
Supreme Court blocks suit over racially gerrymandered districts in Virginia
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday tossed out a lawsuit in Virginia over political boundaries for its state Legislature.
By a 5-4 vote — but not strictly along the usual conservative/liberal divide — the court said Virginia’s House of Delegates did not have the legal right to carry on a fight over the map once state officials bowed out.
The dispute arose after the last census when the Republican-controlled Legislature redrew the district lines for the Virginia Senate and the House of Delegates. In response to a lawsuit, a federal court declared the map invalid, concluding that it unconstitutionally sorted voters based on race. A redrawn map was seen as more favorable to Democrats.
Virginia’s attorney general declined to appeal, and the House of Delegates picked up the fight. But the Supreme Court said a single house of the Legislature had no authority to do so.
“The House observes that Virginia gives redistricting authority to the ‘General Assembly.’ True enough,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote. But, she said, “One house of its bicameral legislature cannot alone continue the litigation against the will of its partners in the legislative process.”
She was joined by two of the court’s other liberals, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, but also by two of the court’s most conservative members, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring called the ruling a big win for democracy.
“It’s unfortunate that House Republicans wasted millions of taxpayer dollars and months of litigation in a futile effort to protect racially gerrymandered districts, but the good news is that this fall’s elections will take place in constitutionally drawn districts,” Herring said.
Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general during the Obama administration, called the decision “an important victory for African Americans in Virginia who have been forced since 2011 to vote in racially gerrymandered districts that unfairly diluted their voting power.”
“With a new, fair map in place, all Virginians will now — finally — have the opportunity this fall to elect a House of Delegates that actually represents the will of the people,” Holder said.
Monday’s decision will have no practical effect, because the Supreme Court had earlier allowed elections to proceed using the redrawn map that the House of Delegates opposed.
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