The DC Housing Authority figures it will need $1.3 billion to preserve all the public housing units it operates. It’s not expecting anything like that any time soon, as Dena Levitz at The Atlantic reports.
In fact, its share of what Congress provides for public housing development and maintenance is currently about $11 million less than in 2000. And it’s short on funds for operating costs too.
At the same time, DCHA has an affordable housing waiting list so long that it decided to close it somewhat over a year ago.
This reflects an acute shortage of federal funds not only for public housing, but for vouchers, including the kind that extremely low-income people can use to help pay market rate rents.
These shortages help explain the very high number of homeless people in the District, though they’re certainly not the only factor. We must also look to soaring housing costs and inadequate local funding for affordable housing programs.
These aren’t problems for the District alone. New York City, for example, had more than 64,000 homeless people during last year’s one-night count. There too, low-income residents face skyrocketing rents, relatively stagnant incomes, a voucher shortage and public housing in disrepair.
A nationwide study conducted four years ago estimated a $26 billion backlog in public housing capital needs. And that was before the Budget Control Act tightened the screws on federal spending — in part through sequestration.
Well, the December 2013 budget deal provided some temporary relief from sequestration. Non-defense discretionary programs, i.e., those that depend on annual appropriations, have $9.2 billion more for the upcoming fiscal year.
Yet key programs administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development are in trouble. Homeless assistance grants and major affordable housing programs stand to lose $510 million, in inflation-adjusted dollars, under the bill the House Appropriations Committee approved last week.
The subcommittee for HUD and Transportation Department appropriations got $1.8 billion more than it had to work with last year. But this was more than offset by a projected $3 billion or so reduction in revenues from mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
The subcommittee chairman says, “Like appropriators do, we made choices.” They’ll force some very tough choices on state and local agencies — and setbacks for the homeless and other low-income people they serve.
Here are some of the specifics, summarized from a new Center on Budget and Policy Priorities brief.
Housing Choice vouchers. The 2013 across-the-board cuts forced agencies to reduce the number of households receiving rental assistance through these vouchers by an estimated 72,000 nationwide.
This year’s budget provided enough money to restore about half. But the House appropriations bill could more than undo the improvement, leaving 12,000 fewer low-income households with vouchers than before.
The problem here is partly that vouchers issued to veterans under a separate program no longer have their own funding stream and so would have to be renewed out of the overall Housing Choice budget.
That would leave agencies without sufficient funds to cover expected rent and utility cost increases for all vouchers now in use.
So they can again cut back on vouchers for non-veterans. Or they can shift the cost increases to voucher holders by freezing the value of the subsidies. One of those tough choices.
Note that we’re talking only about preserving the rental assistance Housing Choices has recently provided — not about addressing the needs of 11.3 million households that are probably paying more than half their income for rent, including at least 50,150 in the District alone.
Public housing capital investments. The House appropriations bill cuts the under-funded public housing capital fund by $100 million, leaving DCHA and other housing authorities with only half the funds they need to cover new development and renovation needs.
Public housing operations. Not enough funding for public housing operations either — about 86% of what HUD said was needed.
Agencies can cope with the shortfall in various ways, e.g., by cutting back on routine maintenance, passing on more of their utilities costs to residents, exercising their discretion to impose a $50 minimum rent on the very poorest families. More tough choices.
Homeless assistance grants. The House bill level-funds homeless assistance grants, rejecting the Obama administration’s request for additional funds to support 37,000 new units of permanent supportive housing for chronically homeless people.
It’s not clear that the $2.1 billion in the House bill would even be enough to sustain all the PSH units supported by federal funds, since it would leave at least some grant recipients with less.
What is clear is that the House bill — in this area, as well as others — dumps responsibility for a major national problem on state and local governments and on nonprofits, whose resources are already stretched thin.
HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS) grants. A particular special needs population would lose out under another part of the House bill. Funds that help state and local agencies provide housing for people living with HIV/AIDS would be cut by more than 8%.
That would leave this relatively small, but vital program with less than it had after sequestration — and so less able than ever to meet the needs of more than 145,000 vulnerable people who reportedly need housing assistance.
This isn’t the whole story — and happily not the end. The Senate Appropriations Committee has just decided how to parcel out funds among its subcommittees. And Transportation-HUD has about $2.4 billion more than its House counterpart had to work with.
Now let’s see what it does.