Housing Crisis Voucher On the Horizon

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reports that tens of thousands of low-income households stand to lose their housing vouchers, pay higher rent or remain on the growing waiting lists for rental assistance unless Congress acts PDQ.

An estimated 400 local housing authorities face shortfalls in their housing voucher budgets. Every state has at least one agency in trouble. In 15 states, it’s 10 or more. CBPP estimates they’ll need a total of $130 million to get through the rest of the year without making further cutbacks.

The shortfalls are caused in part by the fact that Congress didn’t complete work on appropriations for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development until March. Housing agencies, therefore, didn’t learn what their 2009 funding would be until May–five months into the program year. This left them little time to adjust their budgets in ways that would minimize impacts on low-income families who had–or expected to get–housing vouchers.

And they certainly did have to adjust their budgets because the funding Congress provided to renew vouchers was considerably less than what the agencies would have been eligible to receive, based on the funding formula Congress used for the 2008 HUD budget.

The recession is another big factor in the crisis. Families with vouchers generally have to pay 30% of their income for rent. The housing agency pays the rest. As tenants have lost their jobs or had their hours cut back, their 30% has become a smaller part of the rent costs. This, of course, means the agencies have to pay more.

Unless they do something about it. Under certain circumstances, agencies can reduce the portion they pay. This leaves voucher holders with higher–sometimes very considerably higher–rental costs. According to CBPP, at least a few agencies have already exercised this option.

Agencies can also stop issuing new vouchers and/or terminate existing vouchers, leaving families responsible for the totality of their rent. Some agencies have already done both. CBPP warns that many more will have to do so unless Congress authorizes HUD to use already-approved renewal funding to help them cope with their shortfalls.

According to CBPP estimates, more than 28,200 vouchers in use are currently unfunded due to the shortfalls. That’s a lot of families who could be left homeless or with rental costs they can meet only by cutting back on food, medications and other essential needs.

In the likely event that Congress doesn’t pass a Fiscal Year 2010 budget for HUD by October 1, it could put the needed authorization into the continuing resolution. Just a sentence or two is all it would take to avert the impending crisis.

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