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Funds for low-income housing vouchers

By Haidee V. Eugenio SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Feb. 17, 2010) - Sen. Luis P. Crisostimo (D-Saipan) is asking for a minimum of US$8 million to US$10 million in housing choice voucher program funding for the CNMI’s low-income families in 2010.

In a phone interview, Crisostimo said he hopes the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will grant his request to help low-income families, many of them lost their jobs recently because of the downturn in the local economy.

"I think that US$8 million to US$10 million at the minimum is an appropriate amount," he told Saipan Tribune.

Crisostimo also sent yesterday a letter to HUD Honolulu Field Office director Gordon Furutani, asking for an increase in appropriations for the CNMI’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program for 2010.

He said the CNMI currently has over 700 families on the waitlist for this housing assistance program because of "extreme economic hardships due to low income levels that are coupled with rising costs of basic needs, and the lack of sufficient healthcare and supportive services."

"With the financial crisis, things have only gotten worse in terms our economy. So I would respectfully request that you consider the Commonwealth’s need, not want, for additional funding," Crisostimo told Furutani.

The senator also pointed out that the CNMI program not only serves the local or indigenous indigent population, but also citizens from the Federated States of Micronesia. He said a major part of the program appropriation serves FSM citizens in the CNMI.

"The number of waitlist families continues to rise and as a legislator, I come before you seeking your assistance for an increased appropriation to address this very crucial matter that is facing our Commonwealth resident whom I feel have been shortchanged due to funds being shared with the residents of the FSM," he added.

The Section 8 Rental Voucher Program increases affordable housing choices for very low-income households by allowing families to choose privately owned rental housing that is decent, safe, and sanitary.

Under the program, the public housing authority generally pays the landlord the difference between 30 percent of household income and the public housing authority-determined payment standard which is about 80 to 100 percent of the fair market rent. The rent must be reasonable.

The household may choose a unit with a higher rent than the fair market rent and pay the landlord the difference or choose a lower cost unit and keep the difference.

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