Shutdown strikes home

Feds could leave Douglas subsidized housing stranded

DOUGLAS — If the government shutdown, now a month old, drags on much longer, residents who rely on low-income housing in Douglas could be faced with cuts in services. Those who work in the federally subsidized housing are anxious about the future of their jobs and are admittedly unsure how they’ll maintain crucial services if federal money doesn’t start flowing soon. 

Riverside Plaza in Douglas relies on funding from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, better known as HUD. Riverside’s annual contract expired Jan. 20. 

“Hopefully, they can reach an agreement in the next couple of months, because we will be in trouble,” Riverside Plaza bookkeeper Laurie Boynton said. “I still might have to get another part-time job or something if we went to 20-hour weeks.” 

Riverside Plaza is a non-profit, two-building property in Douglas with four full-time staff. The 49 people that live in the apartments are 62 and older (Riverside 1 is reserved for those with disabilities). The buildings are not affiliated with the senior center, and officials do not expect to receive any funding from the new senior citizens service district that Converse County voters passed back in August. Grant opportunities have dwindled in recent years, and Riverside has become increasingly dependent on its contract with HUD. It costs $40,000 per month to run the two 24-unit buildings at Riverside Plaza. Residents pay a subsidized rate to live at the property, but HUD funding is critical in order to maintain the apartments and pay staff. HUD can be difficult to work with even when it isn’t shut down, and the agency has gotten worse since 2016, Riverside Plaza Housing Director Stephanie Hagemann explained.

 “I sent a request on Oct. 1. I didn’t hear anything, so I sent it again,” she said. “Still didn’t hear anything.” Hagemann said that when the shutdown began, HUD went silent and she had difficulty finding someone who could tell her what would happen when the Riverside contract expired. Eventually she got in touch with a HUD employee who wasn’t furloughed. That worker gave her permission to use reserve funds – all HUD properties are required to put a portion of their funding into reserves, for repairs – to keep the apartments going.

The reserves should keep Riverside afloat for “maybe” a couple of months, Hagemann said. If the shutdown continues, she doesn’t know how she’ll be able to continue running the apartments. Donations, which are tax deductible, are always appreciated at Riverside, she added quickly.

 “We would work with no pay,” Hagemann said. “We’d try to continue to pay our bills to keep people in their apartments.” 

“We’re definitely not going to get paid this next month,” Boynton explained. “There will be no funding in February.” 

If the shutdown continues, repairs would be put on hold, as would a new sprinkler system for Riverside 1 that will cost more than $100,000. In general, Riverside 1 and 2 are both in pretty good shape. They are only 34 and 36 years old, respectively. 

If the shutdown ends tomorrow, Riverside can’t expect to receive funding immediately, as its contract hadn’t been renewed before the shutdown began. When HUD opens back up, there’s likely to be a backlog anyway, so funds could still be months away. 

La Prele and Westgate Apartments in Douglas, which combine for about 80 units, are facing similar problems. Unlike Riverside, well under 50 percent of LaPrele and Westgate residents are elderly. 

Irwin Towers also relies on HUD funding, and provides housing for 41 elderly and disabled residents. Irwin Towers Executive Director Kathy Johnson said she’s not particularly worried about the shutdown, but did say it will delay Irwin Tower’s request for funding for a needed backup generator. 

Dino Moncecchi , a managing member of Spartan Management, which oversees La Prele and Westgate, isn’t overly worried. 

“We’re not going to kick people out because the government is shutdown,” he said. 

For Hagemann, the possibility of a continuing shutdown and depleting Riverside’s reserves causes a lot of stress. 

“They’re hurting a lot of people,” Hagemann said. “If it continues and we run out of funding, I’m not sure how long we can keep the doors open.”