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55,000 Housing Vouchers at Risk Under 2017 Funding Bills

State and local housing agencies will have to eliminate vouchers for 55,000 low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities if policymakers renew Housing Choice Vouchers for the rest of fiscal year 2017 at the average funding level that the House and Senate appropriations committees approved last summer, we estimate. Even worse, 135,000 vouchers will disappear if policymakers extend the current freeze on voucher funds through September 30.

Our estimates reflect the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) recent warning to local housing agencies that, under the House and Senate bills, they’d receive 2.5 percent less than needed to renew aid for the 2.2 million households using vouchers to afford rent. Agencies would confront a 6 percent shortfall under a funding freeze, HUD says. The housing voucher and most other federal programs are operating in 2017 under a temporary funding measure, known as a continuing resolution, that expires on April 28, and there’s a small possibility that policymakers might extend this freeze for the rest of the fiscal year.

As I explained in January, the cost of renewing all vouchers now in use has risen to $18.8 billion in 2017. Rents are rising, while Social Security’s cost-of-living adjustments for seniors and people with disabilities with fixed incomes — who make up about half of voucher households — haven’t kept pace. These trends, plus efforts to restore vouchers lost under the 2013 sequestration cuts and expand aid to homeless veterans, have driven renewal costs $470 million above the amounts that the appropriations committees approved in their 2017 Transportation-HUD bills last summer.

A voucher funding shortfall in 2017 would prevent agencies from issuing vouchers to new families as others leave the program. It also might force agencies to terminate rent payments for some current voucher families, increasing homelessness and hardship for seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children — most of which are working families.

A funding shortfall would also undercut broader community efforts to reduce homelessness. In Los Angeles, for example, agencies have already had to pull back their commitments of vouchers to the community-wide effort to reduce chronic homelessness.

Even today, three out of four at-risk renters receive no rental assistance due to funding limitations, and waiting lists for assistance are long in most parts of the country. At the very least, policymakers should provide the funding boost needed to avoid cutting the voucher program for the rest of 2017.