After years of neglect and cuts to the federal budget, a growing number of low-income people face unaffordable housing costs. Federal housing programs have proven effective in enabling millions of low-income households to obtain stable, decent housing, during recent years. However, during the last several years, these programs have suffered major cuts.
In 2011, only about 20% of needy households were able to acquire housing vouchers. Funding cuts in 2012 eliminated assistance to an additional 12,000 families. At this time, there is a shortage of six million housing units affordable at the extremely low-income level (ELI; earnings at or below 30% of the area median income). These members of our communities are most at risk for homelessness or are homeless. For every 100 ELI households, there are only 39 units in existence. This is down from 44 units in 2007 due to the drop in housing stock.
The proposed budget by Rep. Paul Ryan makes this bad situation still worse. His budget would allow sequestration to cut domestic programs and then makes substantial additional cuts over 10 years – nearing 20 percent in some cases – for total savings of $791 billion over a decade. These cuts would shrink this part of the budget to less than half its share of the economy under President Reagan. These cuts are entirely unspecified, as are more than $500 billion of cuts in entitlement programs.
We know that high housing costs can compel families to live in housing that is overcrowded or unhealthy, or in neighborhoods with failing schools, high rates of crime, or limited access to basic services. During recent years, the number of renter households has grown faster than the supply of rental housing, and there is little reason to expect this trend to change in the near future.
Three major programs serve about 90 percent of the low-income families that receive federal rental assistance. All three programs have been cut and would undoubtedly suffer additional cuts under Ryan’s budget. These programs include:
•Housing Choice Vouchers provides about 2 million low-income families with vouchers to help pay for housing that they find in the private market. Unfortunately, applicants can wait for years.
• Public Housing. The nation’s 14,000 public housing developments, located in more than 3,500 communities, provide affordable homes to nearly 1.2 million families, nearly two-thirds of which include seniors or people with disabilities.
• Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance. This program is a public-private partnership in which private owners sign contracts with HUD to provide affordable homes to nearly 1.3 million low-income families. Some 10,000 to 15,000 units of affordable Section 8 housing are lost every year as owners exit the program; these losses are likely to accelerate if HUD fails to restore owner confidence.
At greatest risk are approximately 150,000 units whose owners already have strong financial incentives to leave the program because the rents they receive are well below market rates.
Rather than follow Rep. Paul Ryan’s lead and, as a nation, shirk our responsibilities to people living in poverty, we should robustly fund programs that have proven their effectiveness in providing shelter for individuals and families in need of our help.