BEYOND THE NUMBERS
As Congress begins work on fiscal year 2022 spending bills, President Biden’s fiscal year 2022 budget provides a good starting point for reducing housing hardship through Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs. It will be particularly important for policymakers to incorporate into the bill the Administration’s proposals for 200,000 additional housing vouchers, new resources to help expand housing choice, and sufficient funding for critical rental and homeless assistance programs.
The Biden budget, which would increase overall HUD funding by 15.2 percent ($9 billion), recognizes the effectiveness of the Housing Choice Voucher program to reduce homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding by requesting $1.6 billion for an additional 200,000 housing vouchers. Vouchers are an evidence-based tool that help about 2.3 million low-income households afford decent, stable housing, usually by helping them rent a modest unit of their choice in the private market. The proposed increase in vouchers, which would be prioritized for people who are experiencing homelessness or fleeing domestic violence, would allow people facing severe housing insecurity to afford safe, stable housing.
Despite being a critical investment, 200,000 additional vouchers would address only a fraction of the need for rental assistance. While more than 11 million households with low incomes pay more than half of their income for housing, only 1 in 4 eligible households receive rental assistance due to inadequate funding. There are likely more than 2 million households on voucher waiting lists, and many waitlists across the country are closed, preventing people from even getting in line. As of 2020, those who received vouchers were first on a waiting list for more than two years on average, often facing serious hardship in the meantime. Congress should use the upcoming recovery package as an opportunity to further expand the program and markedly reduce housing hardship, poverty, and racial disparities for millions more people. Much more than 200,000 vouchers will be needed to address the unmet need for rental assistance, and it will be crucial that policymakers also include a major, multi-year voucher expansion in recovery legislation, but the President’s proposals for 2022 would make a significant start in that direction.
The Administration’s budget also requested $491 million to enable housing agencies to provide robust services to expand housing options for families, particularly those that want to move to well-resourced communities. With this funding, housing agencies administering Housing Choice Vouchers could provide additional search support to families hoping to move to new neighborhoods, moving assistance such as security deposits or landlord incentive payments, and credit counseling to participating families.
Rigorous research shows that living in neighborhoods with well-resourced schools and other opportunities can substantially improve children’s health and chances of academic and economic success over the long term. Yet low-income families that would like to use housing vouchers in neighborhoods that better meet their needs often face significant barriers, including lack of time or resources, discrimination, and additional payments such as security deposits. There’s evidence that tailored search assistance, proactive landlord outreach, and other types of support can reduce these barriers and improve families’ success in locating housing in neighborhoods of their choice. Moreover, people with lived experiences of homelessness and voucher use have specifically recommended these types of services as a way to improve the voucher program.
The Biden request also includes critical increases to maintain current assistance and promote housing security. The request includes $25 billion (an 8 percent increase) to fully renew existing Housing Choice Vouchers and ensure that all vouchers currently in use continue. Similarly, the Administration requests a nearly 10 percent increase for housing agencies to operate, maintain, and improve public housing for more than 955,000 resident households. (While this increase is crucial, it would not be enough to reduce the backlog of unmet renovation needs in public housing, which should be another priority for a recovery package.) Further, the Administration proposes a 16.7 percent increase for Homeless Assistance Grants, which will help more people connect with the services and resources they need to obtain and maintain stable housing. Congress should adopt these and other increases included in the President’s budget to help more people live in safe, accessible, and stable homes.