A homeless man in New York. (AP Photo/Adam Nadel)
Sequestration can seem a little vague, abstract, difficult to wrap your head around.
But here’s what it means when it comes to housing: up to 140,000 fewer low-income families receiving housing vouchers, more children exposed to lead paint, higher rent for people who can’t afford it and a rise in homelessness.
These are among the human costs of sequestration noted in a new paper by Doug Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who has worked on housing policy for ten years.
“These kinds of cuts are really unprecedented,” Rice told me. “The Section 8 voucher program has been around for nearly 40 years—it was created during the Nixon Administration and has had strong, bipartisan support for its entire history. Part of that support has consisted of Congress providing adequate money to ensure that the vouchers currently used by families are renewed from year to year.”
But for just the third time in 39 years, Congress will not fund local housing agencies so that they can renew all current vouchers. A $938 million cut in the voucher program translates to a 6 percent shortfall below what is needed to maintain assistance to the same number of families in 2013 as last year.
“Here we are in 2013 looking at severe cuts in the number of families that receive assistance, even at a time when the number of families in need has been rising sharply,” said Rice.
Indeed, as the report notes, there are currently “waiting lists for vouchers in almost every community,” and only 1 in 4 eligible households receives a voucher or some other form of federal rental assistance. Half of the current households in the voucher program include seniors or people with disabilities, and the rest are mostly families with children. The average household income is just $12,500—well below the poverty line of about $18,000 for a family of three.
Currently, Rice writes, about 1.5 million Americans spend some time in emergency or temporary shelters every year. Since 2007, the number of families with children living in shelters and other emergency housing has increased by approximately 32 percent.
This bleak picture is about to get worse.
While 140,000 fewer low-income families will receive vouchers by early 2014—increasing the risk of homelessness for many families already deemed at-risk—there will simultaneously be cuts in federal funding that enables communities to assist homeless people. Emergency Solutions Grants (ESGs) are used by local communities for emergency shelters, temporary rental assistance and other services that help families avoid homelessness; these grants face up to a 34 percent cut.
“Communities will be forced to either close down shelters or cut back efforts to prevent homelessness or re-house homeless families,” writes Rice.
At the same time, Continuum of Care (CoC) grants targeting “chronic homelessness” prevention—assisting homeless individuals with mental or physical disabilities who live on the streets for extended periods—will likely be reduced by at least $180 million. (More if HUD decides to reallocate a greater proportion of these funds towards ESGs.)