Jun 20, 2014 | By Carolyn Burstein, NETWORK Communications Fellow
The House passed its version of the Transportation, Housing & Urban Development (T-HUD) appropriations bill on June 10 and, as of this writing (June 19), the Senate is handling housing within a “minibus” (including Commerce-Justice-Science (S-2437), Transportation-HUD (S-2438) and Agriculture (S-2389). The Senate T-HUD bill is less damaging to low-income households than is the House bill. But dozens of amendments have been offered by both parties, some damaging to housing vouchers and to providing additional housing units. A conference committee will need to be formed to work out a compromise between the House and Senate bills.
The House appropriations bill for HUD, part of H.R. 4745, provides $44.7 billion -- $740 million less than Congress allocated for 2014. And the bill takes the majority of this $740 million out of programs for low-income families and individuals. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) says that the alarming aspect of the House appropriations bill is that it fails to fully fund the Housing Choice Voucher Program, cuts funding for public housing, flat funds homeless assistance grants, cuts the HOME program by 30%, and makes deep cuts to HUD’s fair housing, healthy housing and research programs. The House bill’s disproportionate reductions in these programs will mean less rental assistance, less help in related areas and therefore greater hardships for low-income families.
More than half of the households living in public housing today are seniors or people with disabilities. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) says that while most public housing developments manage to meet federal housing quality standards, chronic underfunding has created a large backlog of repair, renovation and other capital investment needs. A recent HUD report found that public housing developments had accumulated a $26 billion backlog of capital needs, and unfortunately, these needs will continue and be deepened over time.
The White House decried the low level of assistance to families in the House bill, even when comparing it to the depressed levels of 2014. Further, the proposed funding would not restore the sequestration cuts of 2013. Cuts to the homeless assistance grants would undercut the administration’s efforts to end chronic homelessness by 2016. The White House also blamed inferior funding levels on the potential delay of necessary maintenance and capital improvements that would undoubtedly expose low-income families to deteriorating living conditions, such as exposure of children to lead and malfunctioning fire sprinklers.
The Senate housing bill (released by the Senate Appropriations Committee on June 6) improves on that of the House, but would still fall far short in many ways, according to CBPP. Most importantly, the Senate bill would reduce the number of housing vouchers, the nation’s largest rental assistance program, by 76,000 relative to December 2012, whereas the House bill would reduce the number by 80,000 vouchers. The House bill, however, risks locking in the loss of 70,000 housing vouchers lost in 2013 due to sequestration.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program, the largest of the rental assistance programs, helps more than 2 million low-income families rent modest units of their choice in the private market. CBPP says that research shows housing vouchers sharply reduce homelessness and other hardships, lift more than a million people out of poverty and give families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness maintains that the president’s 2015 budget would have allowed the housing voucher program to continue serving the more than 2 million households already in Section 8 housing and would be enough to undo some of the negative impacts of sequestration, although more would be needed. CBPP analysis shows that even the president’s 2015 budget request falls short on housing vouchers. Funding shortfalls might be due to the unexpected declines in FHA and GNMA receipts in the past year. Neither the president’s 2015 budget nor the congressional bills allows for the natural increase in the number of households and individuals that can be served by these programs. And that number is never static.
To protect low-income families, Congress should at least meet the president’s request for funding the Housing Choice Voucher Program, public housing and homeless assistance grants and should seek additional funds to restore to use the remainder of the 70,000 housing vouchers that were cut due to sequestration. NETWORK’s vision of economic equity requires that we all support public systems that provide what markets cannot do well – and affordable housing for low-income families and individuals is one major part of that vision.