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

Funding Bills Don’t Provide Enough Housing Help for the Most Vulnerable

June 20, 2014 at 2:20 pm

Congress may soon finalize 2015 funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Unfortunately, struggling working families, people with disabilities, and others unable to afford today’s high rents will see little housing relief in Congress’ funding, as I explain in a new post on

The House has passed its 2015 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill and the Senate may vote on its bill soon.  While the need for affordable housing continues to rise — the number of poor renter households who pay more than half their monthly income for housing costs has risen 28 percent since 2007 — and homelessness remains unacceptably high, the House bill cuts HUD funding compared to 2014, reducing the number of people receiving rental assistance.  The Senate allocated over $1 billion more to HUD than the House and its bill makes important investments in a few areas, but it fails to serve any additional very poor or homeless households.

These inadequate bills come as the Housing Choice Voucher program, the biggest federal rental assistance program, continues to suffer from losses due to sequestration in 2013, which imposed the steepest funding cut in the program’s 40-year history.  Over 70,000 fewer low-income families had vouchers at the end of 2013 than a year earlier.  Congress provided enough funding in 2014 to restore fewer than half of these lost vouchers, but the 2015 Senate and House bills won’t even renew all of the vouchers restored in 2014, locking in large voucher losses for years to come.

Although the funding bill before the Senate makes important improvements over the House bill, neither chamber has prioritized HUD’s housing programs, as my post explains.

These programs serve 10 million people in about 5 million households, most of whom are elderly, disabled or working parents with incomes below the poverty line and would be homeless or lack stable housing without federal rental assistance.  Yet only 1 in 4 people eligible for rental assistance receives it due to limited funding, and the unmet need is enormous. . . .

Even maintaining the status quo, as the Senate bill largely does, won’t help homeless children, who fall farther behind in school the longer they lack a home; it won’t help homeless adults with disabilities obtain supportive housing; and it won’t help more low-income seniors age with dignity in their communities. These bills are not good enough for our most vulnerable neighbors, and they shouldn’t be good enough for Congress.

Click here to read the full post.

Senate Housing Bill Expands Reach of Self-Sufficiency Program

June 9, 2014 at 1:50 pm

We’ve noted several areas where the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved bill to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) improves on its House counterpart.  Here’s another:  the Senate bill would enable more families with housing assistance to participate in HUD’s effective but underutilized Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program; the House bill wouldn’t.

Under FSS, created in 1990 based on a proposal by the first Bush Administration, participants sign a contract with the public housing agency detailing their plans to acquire educational or vocational training and their interim or longer-term goals, such as getting a job or a higher salary or starting a business.  To complete the program (which generally takes five years), the head of the household must be employed and, if the family receives welfare benefits, each family member must become independent of those benefits and remain so for 12 months.

FSS provides case management services to improve participants’ job prospects and earning potential, such as information on available child care, transportation, credit and money counseling, and educational or training programs in the community.

It also provides escrow accounts into which the housing agency deposits the increased rent that a family pays as its earnings rise.  (Families receiving federal rental assistance generally must pay 30 percent of any rise in their income to the agency in the form of higher rent.)  Families that complete FSS may withdraw funds from these accounts for any purpose; many FSS graduates use their savings to buy a home.  Families that don’t meet the terms of their contract forfeit the funds in the account.

Now, only families assisted by public housing agencies — that is, families living in public housing or assisted with Housing Choice vouchers — are eligible for FSS.  The Senate Transportation-HUD funding bill would broaden the program’s reach by allowing private owners of HUD-assisted properties to offer FSS to their tenants.  (Owners would have to pay for the case management services.)  Roughly 1.2 million low-income families rent modest units from private owners through the Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance programs.

We’ve called FSS HUD’s best-kept secret for promoting employment and asset growth.  Congress can help more families participate in this promising program by including the Senate provision in the final funding bill.

For Veterans, More Bad News Than Good in Housing Funding Bill

May 23, 2014 at 10:41 am

We explained yesterday that the House funding bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would cut assistance to low-income renters and stall recent progress against homelessness.  Veterans, among others, will likely feel the impact.  While the bill funds new vouchers for homeless veterans, it seriously underfunds HUD’s main housing assistance programs, which help the large majority of the 300,000-plus veterans and their families (see chart) who rely on housing assistance to afford decent homes.

The bill, which the House Appropriations Committee approved this week, funds roughly 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans next year under the Veterans’ Administration-HUD Supportive Housing (VASH) program.  Congress has funded steady increases in VASH vouchers in recent years.

Along with rental assistance programs not specifically targeted on veterans, most notably Housing Choice Vouchers, VASH appears to have played a central role in the 23 percent drop in homelessness among veterans between 2009 and 2013.

Unfortunately, the House bill doesn’t include enough money to renew the more than 60,000 existing VASH vouchers unless state and local housing agencies scale back their other voucher programs, by helping fewer families or shifting the burden of rent and utility increases to voucher holders.  The bill also risks locking in the loss of more than 70,000 Housing Choice Vouchers cut in 2013 due to sequestration.

As a result, voucher holders — including many veterans — would face higher housing costs, and people on waiting lists for vouchers would face longer waits.

The House bill would also deepen the funding shortfall in public housing, which over time will cause living conditions for more low-income residents — again, including many veterans — to deteriorate.

As policymakers negotiate the final HUD budget, they should reflect on veterans’ service to the country and the progress that’s been made in helping them afford housing.  They shouldn’t cut the programs that help them keep a roof over their heads.

Five Things Wrong With the House Bill to Fund Housing Assistance

May 6, 2014 at 5:15 pm

Update, May 8: We’ve updated this post to correct the figure for the House bill’s funding cut relative to the 2014 level: the cut is $510 million.

The House Appropriations Committee will vote tomorrow on a 2015 spending bill for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that cuts funding for rental assistance and anti-homelessness programs by $510 million below this year’s level, despite rising housing affordability problems.  Here are five major problems with the bill:

  1. Likely provides too little money to renew all of the Housing Choice Vouchers that low-income families will use this year.  The bill’s $328 million funding increase to renew existing vouchers would only cover the cost of new vouchers that Congress funded in 2014 for homeless veterans and families that recently lost other housing assistance.  It wouldn’t be enough to continue all vouchers funded in 2014 unless local housing agencies freeze the dollar value of their vouchers despite rising rents in many markets, forcing cash-strapped residents to pay even more to remain in their homes.  (The President’s budget boosts voucher renewal funding by twice as much as the House bill.)  Moreover, the bill locks in place the loss of at least 40,000 housing vouchers that were  cut last year due to sequestration and not funded this year.
  2. Cuts voucher administrative funding but doesn’t help agencies cut administrative costs.  While cutting funding by $150 million below this year’s level (and $360 million below the President’s request), the bill includes no changes to streamline agencies’ administrative functions, such as allowing them to check the incomes of elderly and disabled individuals on fixed incomes less frequently.
  3. Deepens the underfunding of public housing.  The bill cuts funding by $290 million below the inflation-adjusted 2014 level, which already falls well short of what agencies need to operate public housing developments and address pressing repair needs.  The cut would increase the risk that living conditions will deteriorate in public housing units, most of which house seniors and people with disabilities.  (The bill also omits an important Administration proposal to expand the Rental Assistance Demonstration, which enables agencies to leverage private investment to help renovate public housing.)
  4. Stalls recent progress on reducing homelessness.  The bill funds homeless assistance at $2.1 billion, the same level as in 2014 and $300 million below the President’s request.  Homeless assistance grants have contributed to a significant drop in the number of people with serious disabilities experiencing long-term homelessness, and the President’s budget would make further progress toward eliminating chronic homelessness.  One positive feature of the House bill is that it would fund 10,000 new vouchers for supportive housing for homeless veterans.
  5. Reduces funding for new affordable housing.  The bill cuts funding for the HOME block grant, which helps rehabilitate or construct rental properties and assist low-income homeowners, by $300 million below the 2014 level.  And it doesn’t include the President’s requested funding for rental assistance for 5,000 new supportive housing units for seniors and people with disabilities.

In fairness to the House committee, it’s working under spending limits for non-defense discretionary programs that are too tight.  (Adding to the problem, the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the 2015 receipts for the Federal Housing Administration’s mortgage insurance program — receipts that can offset program spending — are much lower than the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate.)  But Congress needs to overcome these accounting problems and do better to help low-income families keep a roof over their heads.

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.