Killing Off Housing for the Poor

NY Times Editorial

Published: May 10, 2004

The Bush administration’s tax cuts for the well-to-do have taken a heavy toll on the nation’s most important social programs for the poor and working class. Prominent casualties include child care assistance for working mothers and federal aid for needy college students. The latest victim appears to be Section 8, the government’s main housing program for the poor. The program provides rent subsidies for two million of the country’s most vulnerable families and encourages private developers to build affordable housing.

Section 8 subsidies go primarily to families that live at or below the poverty level, in households that include children, disabled people or the elderly. These families pay 30 percent of their incomes toward rent and the Section 8 vouchers pay the rest. Some cities give priority to battered women, many of them with children, who have to find a new place to live to escape danger. The need is so great that families often wait years for vouchers, which become available when voucher holders die or become ineligible after getting better jobs.

Congress rejected an administration proposal that would have placed a financing cap on the program and turned the money over to the states. But the administration’s assault continues, through the appropriations process in the House and through administrative rulings at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which has been trying to put the brakes on the voucher program. Last month, the department issued new guidelines to the country’s 2,500 public housing agencies declaring that it would no longer pay the full cost of the vouchers but would cap the federal contribution at the level of August 2003, adding an adjustment for inflation.

This has already caused some private builders and financiers to back away from projects that would have produced desperately needed affordable housing. In addition, public housing officials in many states have made it clear that the new policies will force them to raise rents or evict tenants. Having paid lip service to the goal of ending chronic homelessness, the Bush administration is now threatening to kill off the only program that could possibly achieve it

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