Talk of the Town: Sequestration and Housing

Sequestration is the talk of the town this week in Washington, D.C. and much of the rest of the country as we close in on the end of the first week in this new federal budget environment. The New York Times predicted early this week that people living in poverty would be hit hardest by sequestration, the ten years of automatic, across-the-board budget cuts that started March 1.

The impacts of sequestration are already starting to show, with furlough notices being issued and cuts to overtime pay already begun.

Outside of D.C., communities are scrambling to cope with upcoming cuts. In Redondo Beach, CA, city leaders fear what cuts to Section 8 vouchers will do to the lowest income people in their city. Meanwhile, the local economy is dependent on defense contractors, who could also face reductions. Unemployment in the U.S. is the lowest it’s been since December 2008, but it remains to be seen what impact sequestration will have on the steady, if slow, growth the economy has seen over the last four years.

Has sequestration begun to impact your community? How has your local housing authority planned to deal with sequestration? Are you worried sequestration will cause you or a loved one to lose housing or a job? Let us know in the comments.

Meet Our Interns: Becca Larew

The National Low Income Housing Coalition is fortunate to have great interns every semester and summer. Over the next several weeks, each of our summer interns will share their experiences at the Coalition with you. Think interning with the Coalition might be for you? Learn more here!

Like many soon-to-be graduates, the months before my college graduation were filled with trying to figure out what to do next.  Most of my classmates decided to go straight to graduate school, but I wanted to learn more about life outside of the university setting first.  As part of my social work degree, I completed a practicum with United Action for Youth in Iowa City, an agency that works with pregnant or parenting teens and homeless youth. During my time there, I gained an insider’s perspective on different social programs, especially Section 8 housing, where many of our youth and their families lived. By working with them, I learned about the stigma attached to using housing vouchers in Iowa City and the complications renters faced because of landlords refusing to accept their vouchers.

When researching internship opportunities, I was looking for ways to gain experience in macro-level social work and advocacy. I also wanted the opportunity to move away from Iowa and go outside my comfort zone. When I came across NLIHC’s internship description on idealist.org, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to learn about advocating for socially just policies and to organize people around housing issues. After talking with Outreach Associate Mary Kolar about the outreach position and how involved interns are in the everyday activities of NLIHC, I was excited for my big move and to start working.

As one of two outreach interns, I was able to learn about NLIHC’s membership and why members are so important. Joining NLIHC is like becoming a member in an active community that works together to make life better for people struggling with different housing issues. Members have the opportunity to stay informed and take action on different policies that affect either themselves personally or someone they know. While interning I was able to talk to members either on the phone or when attending conferences and learned how becoming a member of NLIHC impacted them. Also I was able to do several other projects while interning including analyzing membership demographics, directly assisting people with housing problems and verifying member’s congressional districts.

As my internship with NLIHC comes to a close, I am again faced with answering the question, “what’s next?” After a brief trip back to Iowa to see friends and family and a backpacking trip through Central America, I will be returning to the East Coast to work as an AmeriCorps volunteer at Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. I know I will use my experience and newly acquired skill set that I gained from NLIHC in all my future endeavors. My advice to prospective interns would be to apply for any internship NLIHC offers because you will gain a wealth of knowledge of different housing issues and be welcomed and appreciated by the staff.

The Other Section 8

Last week, we discussed efforts to reform the Section 8 voucher program, also known as Housing Choice Vouchers. Section 8 vouchers make it possible for households with extremely low incomes to live in private market rental homes while paying rents they can afford.

But vouchers aren’t the only kind of Section 8. Project-based Section 8 is one type of project-based rental assistance that created affordable rental homes owned and operated by private owners.

Created in 1974, project-based Section 8 provided Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) contracts to private owners who agreed to help keep their apartments affordable to low income houses. Nearly 1.4 million households are assisted by this program. The original HAP contracts lasted as long as 40 years; contracts are shorter today, and are subject to annual appropriations. The original contracts required that private owners charge tenants 30% of their adjusted income for rent, heat and electricity. HUD then makes up the difference between what the tenants pay and an amount stipulated in the contract, called the contract rent.

The project-based Section 8 program no longer creates new housing units; authorization for new construction was repealed in 1983. But low income residents still live in these units as long as property owners continue to renew their contracts. When the initial project-based Section 8 contracts began to expire, many owners opted not to continue in the program, causing a loss of affordable units and motivating housing advocates across the country to engage in preservation initiatives. Today, the remaining project-based Section 8 housing is owned by a mixture of private, for-profit owners, public housing agencies, mission-driven nonprofit organizations, and others.

Budget cuts present a threat to the project-based Section 8 program, as HUD still subsidizes existing units. For every 1,000 units terminated, 530 seniors and 170 people with disabilities will face the loss of their home.

Want to get involved? Contact your Member of Congress and speak to the person who deals with housing policy with the message that preserving existing project-based contracts is critical.

Sign On for Reform

With all the talk of election year politics and the difficulty of finding compromise in such a polarized political climate, it is a welcome change when a good piece of legislation has the opportunity to finally become law.

This is the case for Section 8 voucher reform legislation, known in the past as the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) and now known in the House as the Section Eight Savings Act (SESA). Reform legislation has been in the works for many years, but this summer brought new and promising progress. In June, our own Linda Couch testified at a hearing of the draft SESA legislation. She noted that NLIHC is “eager to see improvements like those in the discussion draft of SESA enacted,” as the Housing Choice Voucher program serves the extremely low income households who currently suffer from our nation’s most acute housing needs.

Housing Choice Vouchers are HUD’s largest rental assistance program and incorporate important deep income targeting guidelines, but between FY04 and FY07, over 150,000 vouchers were lost due to poor program management. In FY08, 15,000 new vouchers were introduced, but growing demand for vouchers and increasing housing costs dictate that if the program is to continue to serve those with the greatest housing needs, action must be taken soon to reform the program.

Last week, NLIHC, in partnership with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the National Affordable Housing Management Association, and the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials came together to produce a sign-on letter urging the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs to act quickly to pass Section 8 voucher reform legislation.

The letter describes the SESA and SEVRA legislation as a good-government bill that creates savings and efficiencies in a critical program in a way that is non-controversial and supported by lawmakers in both parties. We believe that showing the Senate there is broad support for reform from national and state organizations will encourage the committee to take leadership on this important issue.

If your organization supports Housing Choice Voucher reform, please consider signing on to our support letter, found at this link. The deadline to join is September 16.