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Tight Spending Caps Force Housing Assistance Cuts

The funding bill that the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has approved confirms my fears that the 2011 Budget Control Act’s (BCA) harsh annual funding caps will make it very hard for Congress to avoid cutting housing assistance for needy families next year.

The bill correctly prioritizes federal rental assistance for resources, raising funding for Housing Choice Voucher renewals by $665 million and Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) by $984 million.  As I explained, these programs need added funding just to continue assisting the roughly 3.3 million low-income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and other households who rely on them to keep a roof over their heads.

Still, the bill provides $183 million less for voucher renewals than HUD estimates would prevent cuts in the number of families assisted, and $106 million less than would fully fund PBRA contracts with private owners who rent units to low-income families.  The House bill also:

  • Cuts funds to maintain and repair public housing — the third major rental assistance program — by $194 million (10 percent).   Public housing already faces a more than $26 billion repair backlog, which Congress must address to preserve this essential source of affordable housing for low-income families.
  • Cuts HOME, which gives states and localities funds to build and repair affordable housing, by $133 million (15 percent).  The subcommittee tried to compensate by transferring, to HOME, some funds earmarked for the National Housing Trust Fund. But the net result is still a decline in support for affordable housing for the lowest-income households.
  • Makes no new investments to fight homelessness.  Over the past decade, federal investments in new supportive housing have sharply reduced veterans’ homelessness and “chronic homelessness” (repeated or extended homelessness among people with mental illness or other disabilities).  Despite the progress, much work remains to end homelessness among veterans and others, including children.

    Yet while the House bill renews existing homeless assistance grants, it doesn’t fund two of President Obama’s proposals to make more progress against homelessness.  The first is $512 million to restore 67,000 housing vouchers cut under sequestration, 30,000 of which would go to homeless families and veterans, victims of domestic violence forced to flee their homes, and families with children at risk of being separated due to a lack of adequate housing.  The second is $295 million in homeless assistance grants to support more than 25,000 new units of supportive housing for chronically homeless individuals and families.

Unless policymakers create more room for key public investments by scaling back sequestration, which further reduces the BCA’s tight funding caps, Congress will continue to find it hard to provide adequate resources for critical housing aid to struggling families — and we will lose ground in the fight against homelessness.