BEYOND THE NUMBERS
Rental assistance helps 343,000 veterans — most of them elderly or with disabilities — afford housing, our updated paper shows (see graph). It apparently played a central role in the 33 percent decline in veterans’ homelessness since 2010, and it allows veterans to devote more of their limited resources to other basic needs, like food or medicine.
Congress should keep these facts in mind as it makes funding decisions on rental assistance programs in coming weeks — decisions with high stakes for veterans and other low-income families who receive help or are on long waiting lists for it.
The Senate Appropriations Committee and the House have passed funding bills for fiscal year 2015 that, while differing in other ways, would both fund about 10,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans under a supportive housing program jointly administered by the departments of Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs. The final legislation should include these funds to continue the steady expansion of this successful and important program.
Most assisted veterans, however, receive rental assistance that isn’t specifically targeted on veterans, such as housing vouchers that aren’t part of the special program for homeless veterans, public housing, and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance. Funding for vouchers and public housing was cut deeply under the sequestration budget cuts and only partly restored in 2014. As a result, state and local housing agencies served many fewer low-income families through the voucher program and scaled back needed maintenance and renovation of public housing.
It’s essential that Congress support efforts to reverse the sequestration cuts in the 2015 funding bill. Both the House and Senate bills would raise funding for housing voucher renewals by more than $325 million, enough to restore some additional vouchers — though still not as many as communities lost under sequestration. The Senate bill also provides a needed (though modest) increase in public housing funding, while the House bill would cut public housing funding further.
Veterans face large unmet housing needs. Despite the recent progress, a HUD assessment on one night in January 2014 counted 49,900 homeless veterans. And many veterans who are not homeless still struggle to afford housing. In 2012, nearly 2 million low-income veterans lived in households that paid more than 30 percent of their income for rent and utilities, and 762,000 lived in households that paid more than 50 percent. The federal government and many private-sector landlords and lenders consider housing unaffordable if it exceeds 30 percent of household income.
The final 2015 funding levels for rental assistance programs need to reflect veterans’ pressing housing needs and the important role these programs play in meeting them.