Threat to Low-Income Renters Will Get Worse, Unless Congress Acts

Budget Cuts Threaten Rental Assistance to Families Across the Country

Congress has set a deadline of Dec. 13 to negotiate a final budget deal for fiscal year 2014. For low-income families and communities in need of affordable housing, the stakes in these negotiations couldn’t be higher. 

If policymakers fail to reach a deal that cancels or reduces the indiscriminate budget cuts known as sequestration, as many as 185,000 fewer low-income families will be using Housing Choice Vouchers by the end of 2014.  Our new report describes this threat, including state-by-state estimates of the potential impact.


More than 2.1 million low-income households use vouchers to rent modest private-market housing at an affordable cost. But only 1 in 4 households eligible for any type of federal rental assistance receives it because of limited funding. Low-income seniors, people with disabilities, and working families with children eligible for the voucher program often must wait months or years for assistance.

In fact, lack of funding is the main reason that more than 180,000—about 8 percent—of the total number of vouchers authorized nationwide went unused in 2012, before sequestration took effect. As we detail in our state fact sheets, the voucher utilization rate ranged last year from a low of 74 percent in Washington, D.C., and Hawaii to a high of 99 percent in Nevada. These fact sheets also show the amount of funds landlords in each state received from the housing voucher program in 2012, which could be helpful in gaining allies and making the case for adequate funding.

The sequestration cuts instituted March 1 have worsened the problem. Many state and local housing agencies are no longer reissuing vouchers when families leave the program. By December, 40,000 to 65,000 fewer low-income families will have vouchers than in December 2012. These cuts will deepen considerably in 2014 if sequestration continues.

While the voucher program shows the most immediate and severe effects of sequestration, the harm of unprecedented cuts in other areas is also considerable, and will grow over time. Since 2010, for example, state and local public housing agencies have lost a cumulative total of $3.4 billion in operating and capital funds due to cuts imposed under the very tight spending limits of the Budget Control Act, and communities have lost $2.5 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds and $1.9 billion in HOME funds. Such cuts are severely undermining communities’ efforts to develop and preserve affordable housing.

To begin to reverse these cuts and prevent even deeper, more harmful reductions next year, Congress will need to cancel, or at least reduce, sequestration as part of the forthcoming budget deal. 

Barbara Sard is vice president for housing policy at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. She served 18 months as senior advisor on rental assistance to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. She previously held the director’s position at CBPP between 1997 and 2009.


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