[Hpn] NYTimes: 100,000 Low-income Families Could Lose Housing Subsidies

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Fri, 05 Sep 2003 08:39:15 -0700

New York Times
September 5, 2003

100,000 Could Lose Housing Subsidies, Advocates Warn

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4 ‹ More than 100,000 low-income families could lose their
rent subsidies next year under a spending bill passed today by a Senate
committee and recently approved by the House, housing advocates said.

The advocates cited a new study by the Congressional Budget Office.

If the nonpartisan budget office's forecast of housing costs next year
proves accurate, it could be the first time in the 30-year history of the
federal housing voucher program that Congress has failed to renew all
existing vouchers. Under the program, known as Section 8, the vouchers pay
the difference between the market rent of an apartment and 30 percent of a
household's income.

The program subsidizes more than two million families who generally earn
less than $20,000 a year.

The House appropriated $11.7 billion for the vouchers this year. That would
be enough to provide for 1.78 million vouchers under the House estimate of
the average cost of a voucher, $6,575. But the budget office last week set a
higher figure, $7,068, taking into account housing costs around the country.
At that rate, the same sum of money would mean 114,000 fewer vouchers in the
coming year. Because the law sets the voucher formula, any shortfall would
result in fewer vouchers rather than small reductions in each voucher.

The Senate Appropriations Committee voted today to spend $150 million less
on Section 8 than the House. But the panel included instructions to the
administration to return to Congress with a supplementary spending request
if the amount is inadequate to renew all vouchers.

Republican appropriators in the House say they provided a 7 percent increase
in spending for the vouchers this year, considerably more than the 4 percent
that the Bush administration recommended. Representative James T. Walsh, the
New York Republican who is chairman of the subcommittee that controls
spending on housing, said he believed that amount would be adequate to renew
all vouchers, though he had not seen the new figures from the budget office.

An assistant housing secretary Michael Liu, whose office administers Section
8, said the administration believed that no one would lose a voucher based
on the appropriation and questioned the forecast by the budget office.

"At the present time," Mr. Liu said, "we believe what has been allocated
will be sufficient to take care of the number of vouchers we have. Frankly,
we're not sure what C.B.O. based its estimates on."

Housing advocates said rapidly rising costs combined with high unemployment
had pushed up the costs of subsidies beyond the increase approved by the
House. The cost of a voucher increases when rents go up and income levels

"The appropriations committees are operating under extremely narrow confines
of what they can do," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low
Income Housing Coalition in Washington. "Now they're not even spending
enough money to sustain the number of people who currently pay for housing
through the voucher program. It's an unprecedented break in the commitment
made when the program was founded in 1974."

To ensure that all vouchers were paid for, Congress has in previous years
often appropriated more money than necessary. This year, Congress changed
the financing to focus on the target of vouchers more closely. The new
formula requires an extremely accurate prediction of costs to keep all
vouchers renewed.

Barbara Sard, director of housing policy at the Center on Budget and Policy
Priorities, a liberal research group in Washington that has studied Section
8 appropriations, said Congressional estimates for low-income housing had
not kept pace with rents and other costs.

"The House relied on old data to predict what vouchers would cost," Ms. Sard
said. "But this funding is for the future, and there are a lot of reasons
why costs have dramatically increased recently."

The Congressional Budget Office predicted that the cost of a voucher would
increase by more than 5 percent, and that there would be less turnover of
families who use the vouchers than the Congressional committees had assumed.
In difficult economic times, families tend to rely more heavily on
subsidies, and there are fewer instances of families earning too much to
qualify for vouchers. Overall, the office said, the cost of renewing all
vouchers will be $900 million more than the House allocated.

Some large urban housing authorities like the one in New York City have long
waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers. Others have far more turnover. New
York issues more than 110,000 vouchers a year, with nearly 150,000 families
on the waiting list.

Mr. Walsh said the tax cuts were not linked to the housing bill.

"We provided a 7 percent increase, which is more than the president
requested," he said. "I don't know how anyone can say that's related to the
tax cuts."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

chance martin, Project Coordinator
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