More About Douglas Rice

Douglas Rice

As a Senior Policy Analyst, Rice's work focuses on the impact of federal housing policy on low-income families.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at CBPP.org


Don’t Let Affordable Housing Programs Go Begging

March 24, 2014 at 4:16 pm

“[A]t a time when record numbers of families have been caught in the squeeze between rising rents and falling wages — and are at greater risk of homelessness . . . this is the worst possible time for Congress to let affordable housing programs go begging,” the New York Times editorialized yesterday.  The editorial called on Congress to restore all 70,000 housing vouchers lost last year due to sequestration.  We couldn’t agree more.

As we explained Friday, December’s Murray-Ryan budget agreement provided partial relief from sequestration for 2014 and 2015.  To finish the job, next year’s funding must cover all vouchers in use in 2014 plus another 40,000 vouchers.  Congress can do this in ways that also promote other important policy goals, like reducing homelessness.

This map shows the state-by-state impact of last year’s voucher cuts.

Why and How Congress Should Restore Lost Housing Vouchers

March 21, 2014 at 10:48 am

A big question facing the Housing Choice Voucher Program next year, I noted recently, is whether policymakers will provide enough funding to restore all 70,000 vouchers lost last year due to the sequestration budget cuts.  Given the large and growing need for affordable housing, policymakers need to make this a priority.  And, they should accomplish it in ways that also promote other important policy goals, like reducing homelessness, keeping vulnerable families together, and eliminating unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities.

More than 2 million low-income families use vouchers to rent modest units of their choice in the private market.  We’ve highlighted research showing that vouchers not only reduce housing instability and homelessness but also reduce poverty, help low-wage workers make ends meet, and give families access to neighborhoods with better opportunities.  They also can reduce the cost of other public services, like health care and emergency shelters.

Unfortunately, only 1 in 4 households eligible for any type of federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding.  Low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children eligible for the voucher program often must wait years for assistance.  Sequestration worsened the funding squeeze, cutting the program by nearly $1 billion last year and causing the loss of 70,000 vouchers.

December’s Murray-Ryan budget agreement provided partial relief from sequestration for 2014 and 2015, but in 2014 that relief will enable housing agencies to restore fewer than half of the lost vouchers.  To finish the job, next year’s funding must cover all vouchers in use in 2014 plus another 40,000 vouchers.

The President’s 2015 budget would achieve the first goal but not the second.  Congress should go further, providing funding for the 40,000 additional vouchers targeted to three areas:

  • Reducing homelessness and keeping at-risk families together (30,000 vouchers).  Public housing agencies in every state could compete for these vouchers by showing, among other things, how the vouchers would reduce costs in health, criminal justice, or child welfare systems.  Agencies that had to distribute fewer vouchers last year because of sequestration would receive priority in the competition if they met other requirements.
  • Reducing unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities (5,000 vouchers).  The Supreme Court ruled in the 1999 Olmstead case that the unjustified segregation of people with disabilities in settings such as nursing homes and public mental health institutions violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.  At least 13 states are required by Olmstead-related legal action to rely less on segregated institutions for adults with disabilities, and litigation is pending in other states.  These vouchers, distributed through a national competition, would help states to meet these obligations to people with disabilities.
  • Protecting victims of domestic violence seeking emergency transfers (up to 5,000 vouchers).  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 requires the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to devise procedures under which victims of domestic violence and related crimes who live in assisted housing can obtain vouchers in order to relocate quickly and safely.  These vouchers would enable HUD to fulfill that directive.

Sequestration’s Toll: 70,000 Fewer Low-Income Families Have Housing Vouchers

February 26, 2014 at 12:26 pm

Some 70,000 fewer low-income families used housing vouchers to rent private housing in December than a year earlier, according to new CBPP projections.  The projections, based on new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data, show that low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children continue to feel the effects of the across-the-board sequestration cuts, which started last March.  The big question now is whether the President and Congress will reverse these cuts next year.

We estimate that roughly three-fourths of state and local housing agencies have had to shrink the number of families they help due to sequestration, which cut funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program by nearly $1 billion last year.  The map below provides state-by-state figures on the lost vouchers; see this table (in .pdf or .xls format) for more details.

These cuts come at a particularly bad time.  The number of renter households paying unaffordable housing costs is at historic highs, according to a new report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, which warns that the “spread of severe cost burdens [where renters pay more than half their income for housing] during the Great Recession and its aftermath is particularly alarming.”

Also, homelessness remains widespread.  More than 600,000 Americans, including some 58,000 veterans and 138,000 children, are living either in emergency shelters or on the street on any given day, according to HUD’s latest count.  Housing instability and homelessness can have a debilitating impact on children over the long term, and rigorous research shows that housing vouchers are highly effective at reducing these conditions among low-income families.

December’s Murray-Ryan budget agreement provided partial relief from sequestration for 2014 and 2015.  But in 2014, that relief will enable housing agencies to restore fewer than half of the vouchers cut in 2013 due to sequestration.  It is therefore essential that policymakers provide sufficient funds in 2015 to fully reverse sequestration’s harmful effects on the voucher program.

Funding Bill Stops the Bleeding, But Low-Income Housing Still Needs Intensive Care

January 17, 2014 at 11:26 am

Last year’s sequestration forced deep cuts in federal rental assistance — at a time when just 1 in 4 eligible households receives such aid and the number of low-income renters paying unaffordable housing costs is at historic highs.  In this context, the bill to fund federal programs for the rest of fiscal year 2014, which Congress has approved, is good news.  But the federal government must do much more to reverse sequestration’s harm and begin to meet the severe housing challenges that low-income families faced before sequestration.

On the plus side:  the bill largely reverses sequestration’s cuts in rental assistance programs.  It also includes important reforms that will streamline the administration of rental assistance programs and save money.

Congress was right to lessen sequestration’s harmful housing cuts and to prioritize low-income housing for additional resources, but the bill still falls short of fully reversing the effects of sequestration.  Roughly 50,000 fewer households were using Housing Choice Vouchers — which help 2.1 million low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children pay for housing in the private market — by the end of 2013, compared to a year earlier, as sequestration forced housing agencies to cut their assistance.  Under this funding bill, most of those agencies should be able to issue vouchers again to families on their waiting lists, but they probably won’t be able to restore all of the vouchers lost in 2013.

More broadly, the bill makes no progress in addressing the enormous challenges that existed prior to sequestration.  Public housing, which provides affordable housing for 1.1 million low-income households, has a $26 billion backlog of repair needs that this funding bill won’t reduce.  Homelessness also remains a persistent and costly problem.  While progress has been made in some areas — such as in reducing homelessness among veterans — these gains may be at risk without additional resources.

The task of addressing these challenges remains for fiscal year 2015, when the spending limits to which Congress agreed in the 2011 Budget Control Act (and modified last fall) will continue to put downward pressure on non-defense discretionary funding (see chart).  The focus now turns to whether the President’s budget and next year’s appropriations bills will make the hard priority choices to protect essential safety net programs despite the budget limits.

Long Wait for Housing Assistance Getting Longer Under Sequestration

November 7, 2013 at 9:59 am

Sequestration could cut housing vouchers for as many as 185,000 low-income families by the end of 2014, according to our new report, which includes state-by-state estimates of the potential impact.  This is one of many reasons why budget negotiators should cancel or at least modify the sequestration cuts in non-defense discretionary programs for 2014.

More than 2.1 million low-income households use vouchers to rent modest private-market housing at an affordable cost.  But only 1 in 4 households eligible for any type of federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding.  Low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children eligible for the voucher program often must wait months or years for assistance.

The sequestration cuts instituted March 1 have worsened the problem, leaving state and local housing agencies with insufficient funds to renew all vouchers in use.  Many agencies have stopped reissuing vouchers when families leave the program.  We estimate that by December, 40,000 to 65,000 fewer low-income families will have vouchers than in December 2012.  These cuts will deepen considerably in 2014 if sequestration continues.

Many agencies also are cutting costs in ways that will worsen hardships for many low-income families still using vouchers, such as by shifting more rental costs to them.

To reverse these cuts and prevent even deeper, more harmful reductions next year, Congress will need to provide an additional $1.7 billion for the housing voucher program in 2014.  Congress could modestly raise voucher funding for 2014 even without shrinking the overall cuts under sequestration.  But canceling sequestration will probably be necessary to fully reverse the cuts’ impact on the voucher program.