CHN: Bush Administration Moves To Make Financing Changes To Section 8

Altering Rule for Program Could Cut Vouchers in Many Areas
The Bush Administration’s fiscal year 2005 budget contained many proposals unfriendly to social service programs. One of the most worrisome proposals was President Bush’s plan to drastically change the structure, rules, and funding of the Section 8 Housing Voucher Program.

The proposal is the second attempt of the Bush Administration to redefine and ultimately shrink the Section 8 program. Last year the administration proposed turning the Section 8 program into a block grant to the states. That plan fell dead in Congress when both Democrats and Republicans condemned it. This year’s proposal has not won many more supporters than the previous one.

What has been surprising this year is even though legislation is not moving in Congress to implement the President’s priorities for the Section 8 program, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has decided to implement new, very restrictive funding rules based on a tiny part of language in the FY04 appropriations bill. Housing advocates and local housing officials all agree that the language in the appropriations bill is ambiguous at best and that the Bush administration is using that ambiguity to serve political aims at the expense of low-income families.

In the past, participating public housing authorities (PHAs) across the country have received a set number of vouchers from HUD and they were guaranteed funding for those vouchers based on certain rent standards. Under the new rules, HUD will give each PHA funding based on its costs from last August, along with a marginally adjusted amount for inflation. There is no guarantee of additional funding if rent increases in certain areas outpace the inflationary adjustment.

The FY04 appropriations bill provided sufficient funding to cover all vouchers in use, yet because of these restrictions, some PHAs are already feeling the pinch. The Boston Housing Authority learned from HUD a few weeks ago they would not be receiving enough funds to cover all of their vouchers currently in use. It was reported in the Boston Globe that officials expect they will need to cut at least 150 vouchers by June 1 if additional money is not provided by the federal government.

According to Jonathan Zimmerman of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials, Boston is one of over 900 PHAs in 47 states who will not have enough money from HUD to cover voucher costs this year because of these restrictive changes. Reports from all around the country, such as Columbus, OH – where officials predict over 400 families will lose their vouchers – reveal that Boston is not an isolated example.

If funds run short and HUD does nothing to increase funding this year, PHAs will be forced to decide which people will lose their vouchers, and mostly likely their homes as well. Extremely low-income people may be the first to go, as their vouchers are the most costly to fund. This result is ironically contrary to a federal mandate in the Section 8 program that encourages the vast majority of vouchers to go to people making less than 30 percent of the area median income. In addition, most PHAs will increase the amount of money people keeping their vouchers will have to pay for rent.

Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Section 8 program – and one of the most vocal supporters of increasing funding last year during the debate over the FY04 appropriations bill – sent a scathing letter to the Secretary of HUD, Alphonso Jackson, telling him that it was imperative all current vouchers continue to be funded. Mikulski wrote, “I was shocked to read.that the Department will not renew vouchers at payments high enough to keep pace with rent increases. This is unacceptable. HUD must take the necessary steps to ensure that every voucher currently in use stays in use.”

Only the coming months will show the extend of the damage done to the Section 8 program, and more importantly to the families who will lose their vouchers, because of the funding changes implemented by this administration.

For More Information:
Boston Globe: Housing Plan Stirs Concerns On Vouchers
Published in the Boston Globe, Sunday April 18, 2004

Housing and Homelessness