Lawmakers are continuing to negotiate a two-year deal to raise federal spending caps, setting the stage for 2018 funding legislation that would include the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). In such legislation, Congress should include the funds to strengthen HUD’s rental assistance programs that help seniors, people with disabilities, and families with kids afford decent, stable homes, which are essential for healthy and productive lives.
Despite the improving economy, the number of families with children, seniors, people with disabilities, and others who struggle to pay rent and avoid homelessness remains at near historic highs. In 2016, 9.8 million renter households had incomes of less than $30,000 and paid more than half of their income for housing costs. That’s somewhat lower than the 2011 peak (10.4 million households), but still 40 percent higher than in 2001, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies finds. Such a severe housing cost burden makes it hard for these households to pay for medicine, adequate food, transportation to work, and other essentials, and it raises their risk of housing instability and homelessness.
First, policymakers must raise the federal spending caps — set by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) and subsequently reduced by the BCA’s “sequestration” process — as the President and Congress have done every year since sequestration took effect.
Second, policymakers must allocate more adequate funding for housing in the 2018 budget legislation that they’ll soon complete. A high priority for additional funds should be programs that reduce homelessness and help families afford decent, stable homes, including:
Expanding rental assistance to reduce homelessness and other severe affordability problems. The Senate bill includes $85 million for about 10,000 new housing vouchers, including $45 million for vouchers for homeless veterans, $20 million to help poor families avoid losing their children to foster care because they can’t afford adequate housing, and $20 million for vouchers to help people with disabilities live in integrated settings in the communities they choose. The final 2018 funding bill should include these important investments. (These investments plus adequate renewal funding and a modest-but-necessary increase in program administrative funding would bring total housing voucher funding to $21.6 billion.)
The final bill should also include a substantial increase in funding for homeless assistance grants, including funding to develop additional permanent supportive housing for individuals and families, which has played a critical role in reducing long-term homelessness in recent years. The National Alliance to End Homelessness recommends $2.6 billion in funding.