Sequestration Puts Rental Assistance Programs In Jeopardy

03/02/2013 10:02 am ET

WASHINGTON -- Low-income families, veterans, senior citizens and disabled individuals waiting for assistance under the federal housing voucher program may have to wait even longer as public housing agencies begin to cope with budget cuts that took effect on Friday.

The housing choice voucher program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides subsidies to qualifying individuals and families in need of assistance. In 2012, some 2.1 million families received assistance.

The program has not escaped the across-the-board congressional spending cuts known as sequestration.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning D.C. think tank, estimates 113,414 families will be cut from Section 8 housing choice vouchers as a result of the sequestration. HUD's own estimate is slightly higher, projecting that approximately 125,000 individuals and families could lose assistance.

Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, says that the budget cuts to Section 8 will likely increase instances of homelessness.

"The potential is that more people become homeless and fewer people are able to leave homelessness," Roman told The Huffington Post. "People who are unstably housed or don't have housing have a really hard time keeping jobs."

In Washington State, the King County Housing Authority announced Thursday that it has suspended issuing new vouchers to those on the general waiting list, but that it is working to ensure that current voucher recipients are "not in imminent danger" of losing assistance.

Like Roman, the King County Housing Authority cited the long-term economic costs of slashing federal funds for Section 8 housing choice vouchers.

"Because rents are so high, many of these families may, quite literally, find themselves out on the street as a result of these arbitrary budget cuts," Stephen Norman, executive director of the King County Housing Authority, said in a statement. "The longer this goes on, the more families will fall through the safety net. The long-term cost to the community will grow."

According to Norman, sequestration will result in roughly 600 fewer families receiving assistance in his county over the next year. The organization says that it currently provides assistance to approximately 11,000 households on any given night.

"Low-income families and individuals struggling with high unemployment in the aftermath of the recession or living on the limited fixed incomes and dealing with rising housing costs should not be shut out of critical safety net programs because of gridlock in Washington, D.C.," Norman added.

According to Roman, the federal government shoud be focusing on increasing -- not decreasing -- the amount allocated toward low-income housing assistance, citing reports that homelessness and worst-case housing needs have been on the rise prior to the budget cuts. Now, Roman is concerned that the sharp reduction in funding will worsen an already growing problem.

"[It's] a significant reduction. I think that [the public housing agencies] have been squeezed quite a bit over the last few years," Roman said. "We should be putting more into housing, not less into housing."

In written testimony to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan urged Congress to approach spending cuts in a more responsible manner, citing the sequestration's damaging effects to the agency's programs.

"Sequestration is a blunt and indiscriminate instrument that was passed to help ensure that action is taken on a balanced deficit reduction package, not as an actual method of deficit reduction via arbitrary budget cuts," Donovan said. "Sequestration is just such a self-inflicted wound that would have devastating effects on our economy and on people across the nation."

In addition to cuts in the housing choice voucher program, the sequestration also reduces funding for other federal rental assistance programs -- including public housing and homeless assistance, which will lose an estimated $304 million and $99 million in the sequester, respectively.

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