A big question facing the Housing Choice Voucher Program next year, I noted recently, is whether policymakers will provide enough funding to restore all 70,000 vouchers lost last year due to the sequestration budget cuts. Given the large and growing need for affordable housing, policymakers need to make this a priority. And, they should accomplish it in ways that also promote other important policy goals, like reducing homelessness, keeping vulnerable families together, and eliminating unnecessary institutionalization of people with disabilities.
More than 2 million low-income families use vouchers to rent modest units of their choice in the private market. We’ve highlighted research showing that vouchers not only reduce housing instability and homelessness but also reduce poverty, help low-wage workers make ends meet, and give families access to neighborhoods with better opportunities. They also can reduce the cost of other public services, like health care and emergency shelters.
Unfortunately, only 1 in 4 households eligible for any type of federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding. Low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children eligible for the voucher program often must wait years for assistance. Sequestration worsened the funding squeeze, cutting the program by nearly $1 billion last year and causing the loss of 70,000 vouchers.
December’s Murray-Ryan budget agreement provided partial relief from sequestration for 2014 and 2015, but in 2014 that relief will enable housing agencies to restore fewer than half of the lost vouchers. To finish the job, next year’s funding must cover all vouchers in use in 2014 plus another 40,000 vouchers.
The President’s 2015 budget would achieve the first goal but not the second. Congress should go further, providing funding for the 40,000 additional vouchers targeted to three areas: