News about high rent and cuts to housing programs keep grabbing my attention. Three weeks ago, NPR took a look at the personal toll sequestration is taking on people struggling to secure affordable housing. Sequester Puts Some Needing Housing Aid ‘Back To Square One’ tells the story of two people who waited years to receive their housing voucher, only to have them rescinded due to budget cuts.
One young woman spent seven years on the waitlist for assistance. While she waited, she lost her job, and then her housing. Word eventually came that she was approved for a voucher, but before she was able to secure housing it was revoked due to budget cuts. A Virginia man waited ten years for a voucher. He was finally scheduled for an interview with the housing authority, but it too was canceled due budget concerns. He continues to live on the street.
These dashed hopes are an outcome of sequestration, but the long wait times are part of a bigger problem. As mentioned in another NPR story, recent cuts came on top of a 25% cut to voucher programs in January of 2012.
Both NPR reports, and other sources, have supplied details on how housing authorities around the country are dealing with the loss of funding.
- In Connecticut, the city of Hartford rescinded 88 newly issued vouchers.
- Fort Worth, Texas rescinded 99 vouchers for families who had not yet signed a lease.
- In Minnesota, 160 vouchers were put on hold.
- The Santa Clara Housing Authority, with 25,000 people on the waiting list, will not issue a single voucher this year.
- Rochester, New York had to cut funding for 600 vouchers.
- At least one housing authority in Vermont will cut the amount of rent it subsidizes, meaning current recipients will have to find more money in their own budgets to make up the difference.
- A previous post, Rental Housing, Sequestration and Oklahoma, covers some of the impact these cuts have had in Oklahoma.
NPR’s recent coverage gives us a scattered glimpse of the shortages facing local housing authorities. Comprehensive waiting list figures for the U.S. are not as up to date, but in 2004 the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) stated the waiting lists for housing assistance included over one million families and roughly 40% of public housing agencies had closed their waiting lists to new applicants.
Not surprisingly, there have been no signs of improvement since 2004. According to an October 2012 Recession Trends brief, Housing and the Great Recession, the number of households eligible for government housing assistance grew by 1.2 million between 2007 and 2009. The brief cites a Harvard study showing the share of eligible households who actually receive housing assistance fell from 27.4% to 25%.
Recession Trends also reported that rent is increasing faster than inflation and over 60% of low-income families are paying more than half their income on rent. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimated the number of households with an unmet need for rental assistance at around 8.5 million in 2011.
These housing problems can have far-reaching consequences, as Recession Trends touches on in their brief. Problems associated with a lack of affordable housing include weakened credit scores due to eviction, lower test scores for children due to school transfers and instability, an increase in negative health outcomes due to stress, and, of course, higher rates of homelessness. The ripple effect of housing insecurity can create more problems that low-income families are not financially equipped to handle. Perhaps this is why I keep coming back to housing issues, because so much depends on having a safe, affordable home in order to raise a healthy family.
- In addition to the resources linked above, I suggest visiting the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ Off the Charts blog for recent research and analysis of housing trends and policy.