CHN: House Bill Could Have Dire Consequences for Housing Voucher Program

VA-HUD Appropriations Measure Proposes Section 8 Policy Changes
Despite the House Appropriations Committee’s assertion that its fiscal year 2003 appropriations bill for the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development (VA-HUD) Departments fully funds the Section 8 housing voucher program, advocates, housing agencies, and resident organizations argue that the committee bill would actually cut between 150,000 and 200,000 vouchers that would have been funded under the President’s budget request.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a new funding formula that would alter the way funds are distributed to public housing agencies (PHAs) for their voucher payments is to blame for what could result in a seven percent net decrease – when renewal and incremental vouchers are combined – in the number of families that could otherwise benefit from the program.

The House proposal would cut funding for currently leased vouchers because it assumes that the number of vouchers currently under lease has not increased since the last year-end statement submitted by PHAs. Advocates say that because that data is essentially two years old, it does not account for HUD’s latest assessment that the voucher lease rate has risen from 87 percent in 2001 to 94.6 percent in 2002. In addition, 129,000 new vouchers were allocated in fiscal year 2001, and the most recent PHA year-end statements would not account for this increase.

The subcommittee suggests that the policy changes to the Section 8 program included in the House bill would end the annual recapture and cuts of HUD funds. However, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, these changes might force PHAs – concerned about having insufficient funds to cover their voucher programs – to require tenants to pay more or to shrink their voucher programs. This could lead to even less funds provided for renewals over time, causing an overall contraction in the voucher program.

The bill (HR 5605), passed by the House Appropriations Committee on October 9, could be taken up by the full House after the November 5 elections. The Senate Appropriations Committee unanimously approved its version of the fiscal year 2003 VA-HUD appropriations bill (S 2797) on July 25 (See the August 2 edition of The Human Needs Report ).

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, both bills could bypass full House and Senate consideration to be sent directly to conference committee. If this were to occur, the VA-HUD agreement could become part of an omnibus appropriations bill considered late in the year.

Even though the House bill proposes higher funding levels than both the Senate and the President’s request for several key programs – including public housing capital and operating funds, Section 202 elderly housing, Section 811 housing for the disabled, HOME, and McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance – many advocates fear that these increases have come at the expense of the Section 8 program. The House bill provides $737 million less in discretionary spending than the Senate bill and $76 million below the President’s request.

The Housing Choice Voucher Program – commonly referred to as Section 8 – helps 1.7 million low-income families afford decent housing in the private rental market, making it the largest housing subsidy program funded by HUD.

For more information on how the House bill would affect the Section 8 program, view the latest Center on Budget and Policy Priorities paper.

Visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition website for a FY03 HUD budget chart

Housing and Homelessness