Investing in Human Capital

Q: In a country as affluent as the United States, why does a woman disabled by schizophrenia have to live in an alley?

A: Because there are so few housing subsidies that only 36 percent of the disabled have access to them.

Q: Why does the housing ‘plan’ for families moving from welfare to work force them to double or triple up in housing units or find space in shelters?

A: Because there are so few housing subsidies that only 22.5 percent of families on welfare have access to them.

Q: Why is the waiting time for Section 8 vouchers five years long in Charlotte, Seattle, Trenton, and St. Louis, among other cities?

A: Because there are so few Section 8 subsidies that these waiting lists have now been closed.

Q: What is the average annual income of those who currently have Section 8 vouchers/certificates?

A: $8,000.

Given this set of conditions, it is hard to believe that the House of Representatives has proposed legislation that would dramatically reduce the already limited housing assistance for which these citizens are currently eligible, including both public housing and Section 8 vouchers. Currently 75 percent  of those with Section 8 vouchers have annual incomes of less than $12,000. The House proposal would allow only 40 percent  of Section 8 vouchers to go to households with income of $13,050 or less. We speak about family values, and we refuse housing stability to the poorest among us. We hold ourselves up as a model democracy to the rest of the world and pass legislation that legalizes the exclusion of those with disabilities or limited skills or elder age. So what should we do instead?

1. Prohibit legislation that reduces access to subsidized housing for the lowest income Americans. Insist that any withdrawal of Section 8 vouchers or demolition of housing units (occupied or vacant) provide for one-for-one replacement prior to the action. We cannot take away the only housing resource the neediest Americans have without ensuring that there are other suitable living environments available. The current process is backwards. As a housing advocate in Chicago pointed out, “We didn’t tear down Cominskey Park until we had built the new one.”

2. Commit to insuring housing stability, via mandatory federal support, for Americans with annual incomes of $8-10,000 or less, who will not be able to become economically self-reliant due to age, disability, or other employment limitations. Commit to investing $50 billion over the next five years to pay capital costs (new construction, rehab or debt service) to begin the process of insuring their housing stability. Doing so will help alleviate mimicking the current subsidized housing fiscal crisis. Fold housing programs currently designed for this target population into one program to save administrative costs. Because of who the target population is for this program, it should not be subject to Congressional discretionary spending; rather, we need to continually assume federal responsibility for appropriate associated costs.

With our economy as strong as it is, we are in the right time to finally invest, proactively, in our human capital. Capitalism in this country can and must be held accountable to the social good.

Mary Ann Gleason, National Coalition for the Homeless


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