Congress may be close to finalizing 2015 funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which includes almost all federal rental assistance and affordable housing programs. Unfortunately, struggling working families, people with disabilities and others unable to afford today’s high rents will see little housing relief in Congress’ funding.
The House has passed its 2015 Transportation-HUD appropriations bill and the Senate may vote on its bill soon. While the need for affordable housing continues to rise — the number of poor renter households who pay more than half their monthly income for housing costs has risen 28 percent since 2007 — and homelessness remains unacceptably high, the House bill cuts HUD funding compared to 2014, reducing the number of people receiving rental assistance. The Senate allocated over $1 billion more to HUD than the House and its bill makes important investments in a few areas, but it fails to serve any additional very poor or homeless households.
These inadequate bills come as the Housing Choice Voucher program, the biggest federal rental assistance program, continues to suffer from losses due to sequestration in 2013, which imposed the steepest funding cut in the program’s 40-year history. Over 70,000 fewer low-income families had vouchers at the end of 2013 than a year earlier. Congress provided enough funding in 2014 to restore fewer than half of these lost vouchers, but the 2015 Senate and House bills won’t even renew all of the vouchers restored in 2014, locking in large voucher losses for years to come.
Other HUD programs fare no better. The Senate provided just enough funding for Homeless Assistance Grants (which provide emergency shelter, permanent supportive housing, and other assistance to people experiencing homelessness) to help the same number of people next year as this year (the House bill would force cuts in the number of people helped), while rejecting the President’s proposal to create more than 30,000 new units of permanent supportive housing to help end chronic homelessness by 2016.
Similarly, both bills rejected the President’s proposal to modestly expand supportive housing for the elderly and people with disabilities, providing only enough funding to serve the current number of recipients.
The Senate did reverse the House bill’s deep cuts in a number of areas by:
- raising the voucher program’s administrative funding by $205 million to help public housing agencies run the program effectively;
- boosting the Public Housing Capital Fund by $125 million to help repair public housing units, a critical addition given the $26 billion backlog of needed capital repairs in public housing developments; and
- expanding funding for the HOME Investment Partnerships program by $250 million to help develop and repair units that are affordable to homeowners and renters with incomes at about twice the poverty line.
These are important improvements over the House bill, and the Senate bill better maintains the current number of people receiving housing assistance, but it won’t enable more people to receive assistance next year.
Thus, neither chamber of Congress made the hard choices needed in this tough budgetary environment to prioritize HUD’s housing programs. These programs serve 10 million people in about 5 million households, most of whom are elderly, disabled or working parents with incomes below the poverty line and would be homeless or lack stable housing without federal rental assistance. Yet only 1 in 4 people eligible for rental assistance receives it due to limited funding, and the unmet need is enormous.
Over 1.1 million homeless children were enrolled in school during the 2011-2012 school year, for example, and more than 90,000 people are chronically homeless (meaning they have a disability and have been homeless for over a year or repeatedly over three years). And more than 8 million low-income households receive no federal housing assistance yet pay more than half of their income for rent and utilities — well above what’s considered affordable.
Even maintaining the status quo, as the Senate bill largely does, won’t help homeless children, who fall farther behind in school the longer they lack a home; it won’t help homeless adults with disabilities obtain supportive housing; and it won’t help more low-income seniors age with dignity in their communities. These bills are not good enough for our most vulnerable neighbors, and they shouldn’t be good enough for Congress.