The Center's work on 'Housing' Issues

The Center works with state and local housing agencies and advocates to improve the effectiveness of federal low-income housing programs — particularly the Housing Choice Voucher Program. We also examine the role that well-designed housing assistance programs can play in advancing goals such as reducing the concentration of poverty.


Three Takeaways from HUD’s 2016 Budget Request

February 12, 2015 at 4:30 pm

My latest post for the National Housing Institute’s Rooflines blog lists three key facts about the President’s 2016 budget request for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  The full post has the details, but here are the main points:

  1. The proposed funding increase is much more modest than it may appear. Some $2.3 billion of the $6.2 billion increase reflects the expected decline in income from HUD’s mortgage insurance programs, which help fund other HUD programs. And even with the increase, total funding for HUD’s core housing assistance and community development programs would remain 6.1 percent below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation (see graph).

  2. The lion’s share of added resources would go to sustaining rental assistance for the 4.6 million low-income families that now receive it, fully restoring Housing Choice Vouchers lost due to the sequestration budget cuts, and doing more to reduce homelessness.

    After sequestration forced state and local housing agencies to reduce by some 100,000 the number of families using Housing Choice Vouchers, Congress provided sufficient funds in 2014 and 2015 to enable agencies to restore roughly a third of those vouchers. The President’s funding request for voucher renewals should be sufficient to continue all vouchers in use this year.  The budget also includes funding to restore an additional 67,000 vouchers, which —together with the requested renewal funding — would fully reverse the sequestration-related cuts in 2016.

    Building on a strategy that has sharply reduced homelessness among veterans, the budget targets 30,000 of the restored vouchers to families, veterans, and tribal families who are homeless, victims of domestic and dating violence, and families with children who are engaged with child welfare agencies.

    And, the President requests an increase for McKinney homeless assistance grants, most of which would support the creation of 25,500 new units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people.

    Overall, the budget proposals would support rental assistance for an additional 100,000 families in 2016, with most of the assistance targeted to address homelessness.

  3. The President’s budget isn’t necessarily “dead on arrival” in the Republican Congress.  The President’s budget assumes that Congress will eliminate the sequestration-level spending caps enacted under the 2011 Budget Control Act for the 2016 budget cycle, freeing up $37 billion in additional spending for non-defense discretionary programs (including those at HUD). Clearly, the House and Senate will reject this plan in drafting a budget resolution this spring.

    But while Republicans may initially reject the President’s overall spending proposal, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees will certainly consider the individual spending requests spelled out in his budget. In addition, the President and Congress will likely engage in budget negotiations at some point this year, in which case the President is expected to argue forcefully for raising the sequestration-level spending cap in 2016.

More Households Facing Unaffordable Housing Costs Than Before Recession

February 9, 2015 at 3:59 pm

The number of low-income households paying more than half of their income for rent or living in severely substandard housing remains 30 percent above pre-recession levels despite the improving economy, a new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report shows.  Policymakers should keep that in mind during this year’s budget process, when they’ll be allocating federal resources.

In 2013, 7.7 million households had “worst-case housing needs” (HUD’s measure of the most serious housing problems), the report shows — up from 5.9 million in 2007.  Most of them include a child, elderly individual, or person with disabilities.  These data don’t include many of the more than 1 million households that were in shelters or on the streets in 2013.

Nearly all (97 percent) of the 7.7 million households paid more than half of their income for rent and utilities.  Families that pay such a large share of their income for housing have great difficulty meeting other basic needs like food or medication, and they risk losing their homes if they can’t keep up with rent payments.  Recent research also has found that unaffordable housing costs can affect children’s cognitive development.

By covering the gap between what families can afford to pay for housing (30 percent of their income) and the cost of modest housing, federal rental assistance programs play a major role in reducing homelessness, housing instability, and unsafe living conditions.  But the number of families receiving HUD rental assistance rose by only 5 percent from 2007-2013, while the number with worst-case needs rose by 30 percent (see graph).  Fewer than one in four families eligible for federal rental assistance receive it due to limited funding.

Wages aren’t likely to rise enough to significantly close the gap between earnings and rental costs any time soon, so the need for rental assistance among working families, as well as elderly and disabled individuals on fixed incomes, will remain high.  The President’s budget boosts funding for HUD rental assistance by $3.8 billion in 2016 in order to provide affordable housing for about 100,000 more low-income households while maintaining assistance to more than 4.7 million families.  Most of this increase would go to restoring 67,000 Housing Choice Vouchers cut by the sequestration budget cuts.

Obama Budget Restores Lost Housing Vouchers

February 2, 2015 at 4:25 pm

The President’s budget includes a much-needed funding boost for Housing Choice Vouchers, a program that has faced deep cuts in recent years, to help more low-income families afford housing.  Restoring the cuts is particularly important given that the number of renter households paying unaffordable housing costs is at historic highs, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

The added funding would restore 67,000 vouchers cut due to sequestration since March 2013.  Combined with the budget’s voucher renewal funds for 2016 and the vouchers that state and local housing agencies will be able to restore this year, we estimate that the requested funds would fully restore the 100,000 vouchers lost due to sequestration.

Building on a successful strategy that has sharply reduced homelessness among veterans, the President’s proposal targets 30,000 of the 67,000 vouchers on homeless families, homeless veterans, survivors of domestic and dating violence, and families that need rental assistance to reunite with children in the foster care system.  Targeted vouchers have helped reduce homelessness among veterans by one-third since 2010.

In contrast, homelessness among families with children remains stubbornly high and has grown alarmingly in some areas, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds.  In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for example, the number of people in homeless families has more than doubled since 2007.

Nationally, more than 1.2 million children attending public schools lack a home of their own, according to school districts’ latest reports.  When you include homeless children not enrolled in school, the total approaches 2.5 million, the National Center on Family Homelessness estimates.

Targeting vouchers on the most vulnerable people both reduces homelessness and provides safety and stability to families — particularly to children, which can improve their health, school performance, and chances of long-term success in life.  A recent Washington Post story illustrates how a home can transform the lives of people who had been homeless for years, while cutting costs for emergency services.

We’ll discuss other important proposals in the HUD budget later this week.

Plan Would Cut Child Poverty by 60 Percent

January 29, 2015 at 11:51 am

America could reduce child poverty by 60 percent by investing another 2 percent of the federal budget each year in programs that boost employment and low wages and help meet children’s basic needs, a new Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) report shows.  By lifting 6.6 million children out of poverty, these steps would generate long-term benefits for those children and the nation as a whole.

CDF commissioned the Urban Institute to analyze how a package of policy proposals would affect child poverty.  The findings include:

  • Investing more in housing assistance for poor families with children so 2.6 million more families could afford safe, stable housing would reduce child poverty by 21 percent.
  • Raising SNAP benefits by 30 percent to cover a larger share of children’s nutritional needs would reduce child poverty by 16 percent.
  • Making the Child Tax Credit fully refundable would reduce child poverty by 12 percent.
  • Expanding subsidized minimum-wage jobs programs for older teens and adults would reduce child poverty by 11 percent.
  • Moderately raising the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would reduce child poverty by 9 percent.  (Expanding state and local EITCs would also reduce child poverty.)

At an annual cost of $77 billion, these and the report’s other recommendations would directly benefit 43.3 million children — that is, most U.S. children — while lifting 6.6 million of them out of poverty, the Urban Institute found.

Reducing child poverty has widespread benefits, the report explains.  Children who grow up poor are less likely to graduate from high school and more likely in adulthood to be poor, suffer from poor health, and become involved in the criminal justice system; they also are less productive workers.  Such problems cost the nation half a trillion dollars a year.

Helping Children Avoid Homelessness

November 25, 2014 at 1:31 pm

Many American children won’t have a safe, stable home this holiday season.   Homelessness among families with children isn’t an intractable problem; federal rental assistance — like the Housing Choice Voucher program — is an effective solution.  But funding is seriously inadequate and has faced significant cuts.

Here are the numbers.  More than 1.2 million children attending public schools lack a home of their own, according to local school districts’ latest reports to the Department of Education.  Most were “doubled-up”— that is, their families lived with relatives or friends — but nearly 1 in 5 were sleeping in homeless shelters or on the street (see graph).  When you include children not enrolled in school, the total approaches 2.5 million, the National Center on Family Homelessness estimates.

While the number of families living on the street or in shelters is largely stable, it has grown alarmingly in some areas, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finds.  In Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., for example, the number of people in homeless families has more than doubled since 2007.

The stakes for these children are high.  Children who experience homelessness or frequent family moves are more likely to develop cognitive, behavioral, and mental health problems, as well as physical health problems such as asthma, and they’re less likely to do well in school.  Children in “doubled-up” families may lack appropriate space to do homework and experience higher stress that interferes with academic performance.  Studies have found that children in crowded housing score lower on reading tests and complete less schooling than their peers.

Federal rental assistance, like Housing Choice Vouchers, enables families to get stable housing.  In a rigorous experiment in which low-income families with children received vouchers, they reduced the share of families that lacked a home of their own by close to 80 percent.

Some communities have also made strides in identifying families at risk of becoming homeless and providing rental assistance or other help to prevent them from losing their homes in the first place.

Unfortunately, fewer than one in four families eligible for rental assistance receive it due to funding limitations.  We noted recently that when five local housing authorities gave people a chance to get on their voucher waiting list, tens of thousands of families responded at each.  In Charlotte, North Carolina, which awards roughly 400 vouchers a year, 32,000 families applied.

Last year’s sequestration cuts have made things worse by forcing housing agencies to help fewer families.  Some 100,000 fewer families were using vouchers in July than before sequestration.

Thanks to a small funding boost, housing agencies are restoring some vouchers in the final months of 2014.  Congress should support these efforts by funding vouchers at the levels proposed in the Senate’s 2015 HUD funding bill.  Congress should also consider targeting some vouchers on families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness to ensure that limited funds go to moving more families into safe, stable housing.