Five Things You Should Know About Federal Housing Programs

In recent years, the affordable housing crisis faced by low-income and working people across the country has captured attention from journalists, academics, and many lawmakers. What has been the Trump Administration’s response?

Given the fresh scandal over HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s profligate spending for dining furniture, one could easily believe that it would be something like “let them eat cake.”

But it has actually been much, much worse. As tens of millions of low-income and working families experience the extreme financial pressures imposed by skyrocketing rents, Secretary Carson has suggested that federally assisted housing not get “too cozy” for recipients. And this misguided posture has been translated into the Trump Administration’s policy agenda. To pay for the recently passed GOP tax plan and its massive tax giveaways to large corporations and our country’s wealthiest households, the administration has proposed slashing funding for various federal housing programs, raising rents on millions of low-income households, and strengthening and expanding so-called “work requirements.” Even worse, these proposals come as the administration and congressional allies are taking aim at various other vital anti-poverty programs and civil rights policies.

As federal lawmakers hammer out their priorities for the coming year, it’s worth setting the record straight about the programs that play such a crucial role in the day-to-day lives of millions of low-income households. Here are five things you should know about federal housing programs.

1. Federal housing programs reduce poverty, fight homelessness, and ensure upward mobility.

Each month, federal housing programs — predominantly Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8 project-based rental assistance, and public housing — help more than 10 million low-income children, seniors, people with disabilities, and working adults keep a roof over their heads and free up resources for them to dedicate on other basic needs.

In addition to helping recipients avoid homelessness and poverty in the short term, research has shown that federal housing assistance improves the physical and financial health of low-income people in the long term. For example, for households who are able to use vouchers to move to low-poverty neighborhoods, children have seen increased educational and employment outcomes later on in lifewhile adults have been shown to avoid serious health issues.

To be sure, much work remains to be done to ensure that people with low income have equitable access to safe, healthy housing. But raising rents and completely taking assistance away will only increase homelessness and poverty, while aggravating quality of life disparities and undermining chances at upward mobility for millions.

2. Federal housing programs help people who are most at-risk.

Nearly 60% of HUD-assisted households are headed by older adults or a person with a disability, while children make up 40% of recipients.

Because of our country’s long-standing legacy of structural racism and discrimination, federal housing assistance remains a particularly important resource for Black and Latino households.

Cuts to housing assistance will fall hardest on those least able to afford it — and exacerbate racial inequality.

3. Federal housing programs have a key role to play in undoing segregation.

The federal government has a legal and moral responsibility to address and remedy patterns of racial segregation. But as has been well-documented, the government has fallen well short of its obligations and segregation has persisted, leaving communities of color without the same level of access to quality schools, housing, and other critical resources as white Americans.

In 2015, the Obama Administration issued a game-changing rule that requires communities to analyze and submit plans to address residential segregation. Yet Secretary Carson recently announced that the rule’s implementation will be delayed and, to top things off, that HUD will remove anti-discrimination from its mission statement.

As racial and wealth inequality remain trenchant, the last thing the federal government should be doing is relaxing civil rights enforcement.

4. Federal housing programs make work possible for many.

Contrary to the wrongheaded and racially-coded rhetoric peddled by some lawmakers, the vast majority of housing assistance recipients who can work already do. In fact, by ensuring they have access to stable, affordable housing, federal housing assistance actually serves as a work support for many.

The Trump Association’s proposed “work requirements” policies rely on racialized stereotypes that assume low-income adults will not work unless forced to do so. Beyond that, work requirements are not effective. Research is clear that existing work requirements have done little to help connect struggling individuals to gainful employment.

Instead, the red tape unleashed by such policies only serves to strip them of desperately needed assistance and worsen the barriers to employment they already face, including high regional unemployment rates, lack of access to reliable transportation, and caregiving responsibilities, among others.

5. While housing assistance is vital, current funding levels are far from adequate.

Even though federal housing has been proven to reduce poverty, increase upward mobility, and improve the quality of life of those who receive it, funding levels remain far too low.

Because of skyrocketing rents and stagnant wages, more than half of all poor renting households dedicate more than 50% of their income to rent. But despite our country’s affordable housing crisis, just 1 in 4 of the people who are eligible for federal housing assistance receive it.

Indeed, instead of trying to gut affordable housing programs and turn our backs on civil rights enforcement, our elected leaders should be looking for ways to expand and improve them.


Trevor Brown contributed to this blog.

About the Author

Kate Walz
Kate Walz
Kate Walz
Vice President of Advocacy, Senior Director of Litigation, & Director of Housing Justice

312.368.2679

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Shelter is not only a basic human need, it is also critical to people’s ability to pursue and attain economic stability.

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