The details of this years sequestration cuts are at last becoming known. The cuts in housing programs are alarming according to a report released by the highly reliable Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Federal housing programs help millions afford rental housing. Many who rent are seniors or people with disabilities including people with HIV. Most of the rest are families with children. On average, these households have incomes of about $12,500, well below the poverty line.
According to the CBPP report, sequestration will cut more than $2 billion in 2013 from housing related programs. These cuts mean the following:
Housing agencies may freeze waiting lists.
Up to 140,000 people waiting for vouchers not able to get them–including many homeless people in shelters who will have to wait longer for a home. This will only increase the level of homelessness.
Increased rents for Families on Vouchers.
Housing agencies will be forced to reduce costs. Agencies may do this by reducing what HUD pays landlords in rent subsidies (the voucher payment standard). Unless the landlord is willing to accept reduced rent this will force those with vouchers to pay a higher percentage of rent. This years sequestration cuts to housing are around 6%. Because of the way the payment standard is set those who currently pay the lowest rents may see the largest increases in what they are expected to pay. Many of these families already pay rent in excess of 40% of income. The increase will further pressure them to choose between housing, fuel, or food. This as fuel and food programs are also being cut due to sequestration.
The maximum amount of rent covered by vouchers could be lowered.
The maximum amount of rent covered by vouchers could be lowered. Lowering this sort of coverage could lead to massive displacement of those with vouchers. This happened in London a few years back after similar housing cuts were made; Tenants were forced to move to housing where rents were low enough to meet lower levels of coverage. For those with serious disabilities or the elderly, just finding suitable housing near needed services and transportation can be a herculean task, never mind the actual challenge of moving.
Property inspections will be cut further causing problems.
The law requires property inspections of vouchered housing units. Due to sequestration, housing agencies could lay off or furlough housing inspectors. With fewer inspectors landlords and tenants will not be forced to maintain property safety standards. Fewer inspectors will also make it more difficult for new or displaced voucher tenants to move into housing.
Landlords will be further discouraged from accepting vouchers.
Underfunded, unreliable voucher programs deter landlords from accepting housing vouchers. Although against the law, it will likely happen and further limiting housing options available to the elderly and disabled.
Additional cuts to other programs will worsen homelessness.
Funding for homeless programs and shelters are also being cut by $96 million. As a result, many may be turned away from underfunded, inundated homeless shelters.
Freezing waiting lists and reducing agency administration costs might be enough to avoid worse cuts to existing tenants in some cities. However, it’s possible that a combination of all the above won’t be enough to meet all the requirements of sequestration. Current tenants might have their vouchers terminated and then be forced out on the street.
These unprecedented funding cuts come at a time of long waiting lists for housing assistance. In Boston, even before the cuts go into effect, there are an estimated 7000 who are homeless; around 1600 of them may have HIV. Once the cuts are implemented these numbers will surely increase. And what about next years sequestration cuts? If Washington can’t come up with a reasonable alternative sequestration 2.0 kicks in next year.
In the meantime, budget negotiations will continue through the Summer. Obama and the Democrats must be pressured to not cave into Republican demands for even more damaging cuts. The House-passed Ryan Budget cuts another 20% below sequestration, cancels the sequester for the Pentagon, and puts those cuts entirely onto non-defense programs. Most of these aid the poor and disabled. The Paul Broun TEA party budget would be even more devastating to housing programs for the elderly, people with disabilities, and poor families with children.
What to do? Pressure the administration and the Democrats NOW to hold the line, particularly if Republicans hold the country hostage for more massive cuts over raising the debt ceiling later this Summer. Join ACT-UP, along with the Budget For ALL Coalition, to demonstrate and fight against sequestration and all its damaging effects!