The Center's work on 'Public Housing' Issues


Better Federal Policy Needed to Address Rental Affordability Crisis

July 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm

Housing has become increasingly unaffordable for many Americans, especially those with the lowest incomes, as a recent report from Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies documents and I pointed out earlier this week.  And federal policy is helping fewer families meet this challenge.  The number of households experiencing “worst-case needs” ­— those with very low incomes that pay more than half their income toward housing or live in severely inadequate housing — has risen dramatically, but the share of households eligible for assistance that receive it has fallen to just 23 percent (see chart).

These trends have significant negative consequences for low-income families, as Harvard’s report details.  To afford housing, they may be forced to live in neighborhoods with high crime rates or in inadequate housing.  Families that pay more than half their income for housing also spend far less on other basic needs, including 39 percent less on food, 65 percent less on health care, and 66 percent less on transportation, than families with affordable housing.

Federal rental assistance is a lifeline that can help prevent those kinds of negative results for low-income families.  About 5 million low-income households receive assistance to afford decent, stable, modest housing while paying about 30 percent of their income toward rent.  Rental assistance programs reduce poverty, homelessness, and housing instability, and help families afford decent quality housing in safer neighborhoods.

Nevertheless, Congress has cut these programs in recent years.  Between 2010 and 2014, Congress cut funding for Housing Choice Vouchers by $528 million, public housing by almost $1.6 billion, and housing for the elderly and people with disabilities by almost $600 million, adjusted for inflation.  These cuts have kept tens of thousands of eligible families from receiving rental assistance.  As we’ve explained, for example, last year’s sequestration cuts dropped the number of families using Housing Choice Vouchers by more than 70,000.

Unfortunately, Congress may provide little relief in the 2015 budget.  While Congress provided sufficient funding in 2014 to restore half of the vouchers lost to sequestration, the 2015 spending bills that the House recently approved and the Senate may consider this summer fail to renew those restored vouchers.  Congress can and should do more to help low-income families live in safe and affordable homes.

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 TalkPoverty.org:

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.

Update: Senate Housing Bill Improves on House But Still Would Lock in Large Voucher Losses

June 6, 2014 at 3:52 pm

The 2015 funding bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which the Senate Appropriations Committee approved yesterday, is a significant improvement over its House counterpart but still falls short in major respects.

As we’ve reported, the across-the-board sequestration cuts eliminated housing vouchers for some 70,000 low-income families in 2013.  Congress provided enough funding in 2014 to restore roughly half of those lost vouchers.

But the 2015 spending bill that the House Appropriations Committee approved on May 21 would likely lock in the loss of more than 70,000 vouchers in 2015.  The Senate bill provides only $26 million more than the House bill to renew vouchers in use in 2014.  This means that, like the House bill, the Senate bill provides enough funding to renew all vouchers in use this year only if housing agencies either don’t use their available 2014 funds to restore lost vouchers this year or freeze subsidies in spite of rising rent and utility costs.

In other words, the bill would either lock in the loss of more than 70,000 vouchers (see graph) or require families with meager resources to absorb significant increases in housing costs next year.

Also like the House bill, the Senate bill would make little progress against homelessness.  While both bills include $75 million for new rental assistance for homeless veterans and the Senate bill raises homeless assistance grants by $40 million over last year’s level, the latter is only enough to renew existing grants.  And any progress against homelessness is doubtful if Congress locks in sequestration cuts in vouchers, which are an important part of state and local efforts to reduce homelessness.

In some other areas, the Senate bill made significant improvements over the House bill with the roughly $1 billion more for HUD housing and community development programs it had available.  (The Senate Appropriations Committee allocated $2.4 billion more for the Transportation-HUD bill as a whole than the House did.)  The key areas of improvement include:

  • $6.38 billion for public housing operations and capital needs, $200 million more than the House bill and $100 million above the 2014 level.  The Senate bill also raises to 185,000 the number of public housing units authorized to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration and provides $10 million in new funding for this promising initiative, which enables public housing agencies to obtain more private capital for repair needs.  And it provides $90 million ($65 million more than the House bill) for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative to revitalize public housing, other assisted housing, and surrounding distressed neighborhoods.
  • $1.55 billion for state and local agencies to administer vouchers, $205 million more than the House bill and $55 million above the 2014 level.  While the Senate funding level is still $150 million below the President’s request, the added funding over the House level is important to enable agencies to run the voucher program effectively.
  • $950 million ($250 million more than the House bill) for the HOME Investment Partnerships program, which helps states and localities develop and preserve homes for lower-income owners and renters.

To be sure, Congress faces severe budgetary constraints in writing the fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills.  Yet policymakers should place high priority on protecting key safety net programs, including rental assistance programs — which enable more than 5 million low-income families to avoid homelessness and other hardships.

Congress should do more to protect low-income families as the House and Senate bills move forward in the next two weeks.

Senate Housing Bill Improves on House But Still Risks Locking in Large Voucher Losses

June 4, 2014 at 1:49 pm

The 2015 funding bill for the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which a Senate appropriations subcommittee approved yesterday, is a significant improvement over its House counterpart but still falls short in major respects.

As we’ve reported, the across-the-board sequestration cuts eliminated housing vouchers for some 70,000 low-income families in 2013.  Congress provided enough funding in 2014 to restore roughly half of those lost vouchers.

But the 2015 spending bill that the House Appropriations Committee approved on May 21 would likely lock in the loss of more than 70,000 vouchers in 2015.  It also makes significant cuts in other important low-income housing programs, such as in funding to repair public housing.

The Senate Appropriations Committee set better priorities, allocating $2.4 billion more for the Transportation-HUD bill than the House did, including roughly $1 billion more for HUD housing and community development programs.  The Senate bill’s key areas of improvement over the House bill include:

  • $6.38 billion for public housing operations and capital needs, $200 million more than the House bill and $100 million above the 2014 level.  The Senate bill also raises to 185,000 the number of public housing units authorized to participate in the Rental Assistance Demonstration, a promising initiative that enables public housing agencies to obtain more private capital for repair needs.  And it provides $90 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative to revitalize public housing, other assisted housing, and surrounding distressed neighborhoods, $65 million more than the House bill.
  • $2.15 billion for homeless assistance grants, $40 million above the House bill and the 2014 level.
  • $950 million for the HOME Investment Partnerships program, which helps states and localities develop and preserve homes for lower-income owners and renters; that’s $250 million more than the House bill.

But, like the House bill, the Senate bill appears to provide enough funding to renew all vouchers in use this year only if housing agencies either don’t use their available 2014 funds to restore lost vouchers this year or freeze subsidies in spite of rising rent and utility costs.  In other words, the bill would either lock in the loss of more than 70,000 vouchers or require families with meager resources to absorb significant increases in housing costs next year (see graph).

Also, the Senate bill would make little progress against homelessness.  While it includes $75 million for new rental assistance for homeless veterans, the above-mentioned $40 million increase in homeless assistance grants is only enough to renew existing grants.  And any progress against homelessness is doubtful if the sequestration cuts in vouchers are locked in.

To be sure, Congress faces severe budgetary constraints in writing the fiscal year 2015 appropriations bills.  Yet policymakers should place high priority on protecting key safety net programs, including rental assistance programs — which enable more than 5 million low-income families to avoid homelessness and other hardships.

Congress should do more to protect low-income families as the House and Senate bills move forward.

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.