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Q & A with Doug Rice: Housing Assistance at Risk for Struggling Families


In this podcast, we’ll discuss proposed funding cuts that could cause tens of thousands of low-income families to lose housing assistance during these tough economic times. I’m Shannon Spillane and I’m joined by Senior Policy Analyst, Doug Rice.

Doug, Congress has yet to establish the funding levels for domestic programs for 2011, and there are several proposals gaining momentum that would cut non-defense spending, which is the slice of the budget that funds low-income housing assistance.  Can you tell us how these proposals would affect families receiving housing aid through the housing voucher program?

Sure, Shannon.  About 2 million low-income families currently use vouchers to cover part of the cost of renting modest apartments in the private market. Each year, Congress must renew the funding for these vouchers.  The House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations Committee have approved separate bills that would fully fund voucher renewals in 2011.  But, as you mentioned, the final bill could be affected by a number of broad proposals to cut non-defense spending.  In a recent analysis, we found that even under the best case scenario, that is, the spending cut proposal that would cause the least amount of damage to housing voucher funding, 38 thousand families could lose their housing assistance.

What about under the worst case scenario?

Well the worst case scenario is House Speaker-elect John Boehner’s plan to cut overall funding for nondefense discretionary programs by $101 billion. If Congress adopted cuts at that level, then nearly five hundred thousand families would be at risk of losing their housing assistance.

That means about one quarter of the families now receiving housing assistance could lose it if Congress passes the Boehner proposal, or something similar.

How are housing vouchers helping families and the economy during these difficult economic times?

The great majority of households that use vouchers are families that are spending more than half of their income on rent.  These families constantly struggle to meet their basic needs.

Since 2007, when the economy began to weaken, the number of poor families that spend over half their income on housing costs has increased by eight hundred thousand families.  Housing vouchers ease the financial burdens on these families and prevent many from becoming homeless.  Vouchers have also enabled these families to quickly put money back into the economy by making it possible for them to buy the groceries and other goods that they need.  Finally, vouchers reduce housing vacancies, which can be important in local markets most affected by foreclosures and the weak economy.

Doug, what’s the bottom line?

Congress can and should protect the housing voucher program from funding cuts as it moves forward with the appropriations process.  Large cuts in vouchers would only increase homelessness and hurt vulnerable families, while also weakening local economies and housing markets.

Thanks for joining me, Doug.