More About Barbara Sard

Barbara Sard

Sard rejoined the Center as Vice President for Housing Policy in 2011 after 18 months as Senior Advisor on Rental Assistance to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan.

Full bio and recent public appearances | Research archive at

Housing Squeeze Tightens Further Under Sequestration

December 10, 2013 at 1:28 pm

Demand for rental housing has surged even as the supply has shrunk, the New York Times reports today, and the budget cuts under sequestration “are only adding to the problem, hitting housing programs especially hard.”  Indeed, as we pointed out last month, the long wait for housing assistance is getting longer under sequestration.  The cuts could eliminate vouchers for as many as 185,000 low-income families by the end of next year (see chart).

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 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 40,000 to 65,000 fewer low-income families now have vouchers than in December 2012.  These cuts will deepen considerably in 2014 if sequestration continues.

The harsh impacts on people who need housing assistance are just one reason why policymakers need to reduce or eliminate the sequestration cuts in non-defense programs.

Hardship in America, 2013: Homelessness Remains High and Affordable Housing Is Increasingly Scarce

November 26, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Six years after the Great Recession began, the number of homeless families with children remains stubbornly high.  And the number of low-income households with unmet needs for housing assistance — especially families with children — has soared.  Funding cuts under sequestration threaten to halt progress against homelessness and worsen the shortage of affordable housing.

Let’s first look at the homelessness data:

  • Over 1.1 million children and youth were homeless during the 2011-2012 school year, according to the Department of Education.  Four-fifths were living in homes that were not their own and that may be crowded and unstable; the rest were living in homeless shelters or on the street, in cars, or in abandoned buildings.
  • The number of families with children in homeless shelters or temporary housing for the homeless jumped by 30 percent in the first two years of the recession (2007-2009) and remained only slightly below the 2009 level as of 2012, according to a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report.  This figure doesn’t include families who are doubling up with other households, even if they have to move every few weeks. 
  • HUD’s latest count of the number of people living on the streets or in shelters on one night in January showed a modest drop among families with children.  (The drop since 2007, however, was close to 25 percent each among people with disabilities and veterans.)  And one-night counts are less reliable than counts of the number of homeless households over a whole year.

Millions of families that aren’t homeless nonetheless face serious housing affordability problems.  More than 8 million low-income households who receive no federal housing assistance pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities (see chart).  That’s a 43 percent increase since 2007.

More than 2 million low-income households use vouchers to rent modest private-market housing at an affordable cost.  But low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children eligible for the voucher program often must wait years for assistance due to limited funding.

Sequestration is hitting both the voucher program and anti-homelessness efforts (as well as public housing and other areas).  Scheduled cuts in voucher funding could eliminate vouchers for as many as 185,000 low-income families by the end of 2014.  Cuts in the grants that communities use to help homeless people could force them to cut back efforts to prevent homelessness or re-house homeless families.  The voucher cuts also mean that many fewer families that are homeless or at imminent risk of homelessness will have access to vouchers.

Sequestration’s harmful impact on low-income housing is one of many reasons why budget negotiators should replace part or all of sequestration for the next year or two with alternative deficit-reduction measures.

One Goal of the March on Washington Gets a Bit Closer

August 28, 2013 at 11:39 am

On the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we want to highlight the President’s important recent step toward one of its goals:  the freedom to choose where to live without regard to the color of one’s skin.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968, a landmark civil rights law that followed the march, outlawed racial discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing.  Now, some 45 years later, the federal government finally is proposing regulations to give meaning to the Act’s requirement that recipients of federal housing and community development funds “act affirmatively” to further fair housing.

That means “taking proactive steps beyond simply combating discrimination to foster more inclusive communities and access to community assets for all persons protected by the Fair Housing Act,” the proposed regulation explains.

Under the proposed rule, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would provide public housing agencies (PHAs) that administer federal rental assistance, as well as states and localities that receive federal funds for community development or housing assistance, with data on racially and ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, assets like education and jobs, and related factors.  With public input, agencies and communities would then set fair housing goals and develop strategies to achieve them.

Some will likely criticize the rule as a new and unreasonable burden.  Such objections are misguided.

Congress — not President Obama — imposed fair housing obligations on federal grantees by enacting the 1968 law.  Indeed, Congress reiterated PHAs’ obligation to comply with civil rights laws and promote fair housing as recently as 2008.

HUD would provide the data, and PHAs and states and localities would set their own goals and strategies, as part of planning processes that they already must undertake under other existing laws.  What they could no longer do is simply check a box claiming that they comply with all fair housing requirements without giving any thought to the extent of fair housing issues in their area or what they are doing to address them.

This analysis will take some new effort for many, but PHAs can reduce the minor burden by joining with a local jurisdiction, regional group, or state in their assessment.

Public actions contributed to segregation, and public action is necessary to reduce its “heavy social cost.” Nowhere is this clearer than in the location of public housing, as this recent Urban Institute post explains.  But it’s true as well for recipients of Housing Choice Vouchers, too many of whom live in areas of concentrated poverty.

PHAs, as well as states and local jurisdictions, can do a lot to expand the housing choices of both public housing residents and voucher holders.  To cite just one example, they can make it easier for families to use vouchers to rent housing in safer neighborhoods with better schools.

HUD’s important rule is long overdue.

Putting Housing Money Where the Need Is

March 21, 2013 at 9:56 am

The artificial distinction between tax expenditures (credits, deductions, and other tax breaks) and spending programs “make[s] it harder to gauge the impact of the federal budget on such crucial activities as housing,” a recent New York Times story explains, noting that the mortgage interest deduction — which mostly helps high-income people — costs far more than spending programs to help low- or moderate-income people afford housing.  The story continues:

“If someone said, ‘Let’s have a voucher program on the spending side, giving high-income families vouchers to subsidize their mortgages,’ ” said Glenn Hubbard, the dean of Columbia Business School and a prominent Republican economist, referring to the home mortgage interest deduction, “I don’t think that would get through Congress.”

That’s why we’ve called for rebalancing federal housing policy by creating a renters’ tax credit to help low-income families afford housing.

Policymakers have focused for decades on policies to increase homeownership, and most federal housing dollars benefit families with relatively little need for assistance.  More than half of federal dollars for housing benefit households with incomes above $100,000 (see chart).

Meanwhile, the nation’s lowest-income renters are far likelier to struggle to pay for housing — and their affordability problems are growing.

A renters’ credit, administered by states and capped at $5 billion a year, could:

  • Assist about 1.2 million of the lowest-income renter households;
  • Reduce each household’s rent by an average of $400; and
  • Lift 250,000 families out of poverty and lift four of five of the poorest families it assists out of deep poverty (defined as having income below half of the federal poverty guidelines).

It’s the right time to consider such a credit, as policymakers consider restructuring tax expenditures as part of tax reform.  Proposed changes to the mortgage interest deduction (such as converting it to a credit) could make homeownership-related tax expenditures more efficient and raise added revenues to reduce the deficit.  And, by directing a modest share of the savings from these or other tax reforms to the renters’ credit, policymakers could make the nation’s housing dollars fairer and more effective.

New Guide to Help Families Use Housing Vouchers to Move to High-Opportunity Neighborhoods

February 20, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Housing vouchers can give families access to better opportunities.  Using a voucher to move out of an extreme-poverty neighborhood sharply reduces deaths from disease or accidents among girls. And where housing policies have allowed low-income children to attend high-performing, economically integrated schools over the long term, the students scored significantly higher on math and reading tests than comparable children who attended higher-poverty schools.  These types of positive results have helped the voucher program generate broad bipartisan support.

But evidence shows that a core feature of the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program —  families’ ability to choose where to live — often hasn’t had the hoped-for results.  Families with vouchers live in only slightly less poor neighborhoods than similar tenants without housing assistance, although neighborhood outcomes are somewhat better for black voucher households and significantly better than for the public housing and project-based Section 8 programs.  Moreover, a recent analysis shows that a smaller share of voucher households with children live near schools ranked in the top 50 percent than poor households generally.

As I explained last week on the National Housing Institute’s Shelterforce blog, it’s critical to give those helping Housing Choice Voucher families the tools they need to help these families move to more opportunity-rich neighborhoods — especially as policymakers consider cuts to housing programs as part of the current budget debate.

A new toolkit from the Poverty & Race Research Action Council and the Urban Institute (to which I contributed) is a starting point for public housing agencies, state and local governments, and non-profits that are working with these families.

The guide shows how to:

  • Set goals in light of local markets and priorities;
  • Identify opportunity-rich neighborhoods;
  • Reach out to landlords effectively;
  • Recruit and assist target families;
  • Use existing discretion under the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) policies — or get waivers of HUD rules — to expand families’ search time, set adequate subsidy levels, and provide security deposits; and
  • Fund a local or regional program.

The toolkit is a good start, but HUD can do more to help the voucher program achieve its full potential.  Modifications of some of HUD’s policies — such as the “portability” and “consortia” rules that affect families seeking to use their vouchers in other cities or counties and the measures used to assess agency performance — could make it easier for agencies and families to succeed, and would encourage agencies to adopt policies to achieve better results.