Today’s Read: Expansion of Federal Rental Assistance Would Bring Significant Drop in Poverty, Homelessness

For decades, the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program has proven to be one of the most effective solutions to homelessness and housing instability, by subsidizing rents for low-income Americans. However, despite ample research on the program’s effectiveness, and despite the worsening nationwide housing crisis, the Federal government has rationed this vital assistance by refusing to fund a sufficient number of vouchers for all who need them. Currently, only one out of every four eligible households receives a Section 8 voucher, and waiting lists are often years long or closed entirely. Read our June op-ed in City Limits explaining why it is time to finally make housing vouchers universal.

Fully funding the Section 8 voucher program as an entitlement for all eligible households would do even more than dramatically reduce homelessness and housing insecurity – it would also help stimulate the economy more broadly. A new report conducted by HR&A and commissioned by the New York Housing Conference finds that universalizing Federal rental assistance programs like the Section 8 voucher would generate $14.7 billion in economic activity in New York State, including an increase in household spending capacity by $8.5 billion, while adding 96,000 jobs and lifting 300,000 New Yorkers permanently out of poverty. The program would also result in a 33 percent increase in affordable housing production in New York City alone.

This report adds to the unprecedented momentum around making housing vouchers universal: President Biden endorsed the transformative policy on the campaign trail, and Congress is debating a historic expansion of rental assistance in the infrastructure package. In July, House Financial Services Committee Chair Rep. Maxine Waters, along with New York City Congressman Rep. Ritchie Torres and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver of Missouri, introduced The Ending Homelessness Act of 2021 to phase in universal rental assistance for all eligible households by 2030. Write to your representative using this link to urge them to support his vital legislation, which would place the nation on the path to ending homelessness and housing insecurity once and for all.

Janaki Chadha wrote about the new report for Politico:

 “We really have to view any investment in Section 8 as being offset by these other gains,” said Rachel Fee, executive director of the New York Housing Conference.

“One of the main criticisms or the pushback on expanding Section 8 is typically around the cost, so we really wanted to show what it would mean if low-income New Yorkers had help paying their rent and weren’t extremely rent-burdened, and show that that residual income goes to paying other basic needs for their households,” she said. “[The report] clearly shows households would benefit, they’d spend more on other basic needs like food and transportation, but that spending also creates jobs and economic stimulus.”

During his campaign, President Joe Biden pledged to expand rental assistance to ensure anyone who qualifies for the benefit is guaranteed to receive it, as is the case with Medicare or Social Security. The budget reconciliation package being debated in Congress includes a $75 billion expansion of the Section 8 program that Fee sees as a “down payment towards universal rental assistance.”

A universal expansion of the program would create 1.1 million new voucher households in New York state, including 689,000 in New York City, according to the report. The spending capacity of those households would also increase $7,680 per year — which, the report says, “would create ripple effects throughout the local economy, leading to increased employment, earnings, and economic output.” The report projects $424 million in increased annual tax revenues for New York state and $313 million for New York City.

 “Now that unemployment assistance is ending and as we go into the next calendar year and our eviction moratorium will expire, I think it is really going to come to a head, and we’re going to see exactly how devastating it is to not be able to afford your rent,” Fee said. “The pandemic has really exacerbated the crisis in so many ways and has made crystal clear that we need more help from Washington.”