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Sequestration’s Toll: 70,000 Fewer Low-Income Families Have Housing Vouchers

Some 70,000 fewer low-income families used housing vouchers to rent private housing in December than a year earlier, according to new CBPP projections.  The projections, based on new Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) data, show that low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and families with children continue to feel the effects of the across-the-board sequestration cuts, which started last March.  The big question now is whether the President and Congress will reverse these cuts next year.

We estimate that roughly three-fourths of state and local housing agencies have had to shrink the number of families they help due to sequestration, which cut funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program by nearly $1 billion last year.  The map below provides state-by-state figures on the lost vouchers; see this table (in .pdf or .xls format) for more details. 

These cuts come at a particularly bad time.  The number of renter households paying unaffordable housing costs is at historic highs, according to a new report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, which warns that the “spread of severe cost burdens [where renters pay more than half their income for housing] during the Great Recession and its aftermath is particularly alarming.”

Also, homelessness remains widespread.  More than 600,000 Americans, including some 58,000 veterans and 138,000 children, are living either in emergency shelters or on the street on any given day, according to HUD’s latest count.  Housing instability and homelessness can have a debilitating impact on children over the long term, and rigorous research shows that housing vouchers are highly effective at reducing these conditions among low-income families.

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 vouchers cut in 2013 due to sequestration.  It is therefore essential that policymakers provide sufficient funds in 2015 to fully reverse sequestration’s harmful effects on the voucher program.