housing action
More Than Just Airport Delays and Cancelled Tours


Ben Miksch, State and Federal Policy Associate

When I was in D.C. last week for the annual National Low Income Housing Coalition Conference, I kept coming across various news articles and commentaries about how sequestration wasn’t really that big of a deal. By that point, sequestration had been in effect for nearly three weeks, and the only effects many had seen in D.C. were cancelled White House tours and airport delays. Surely this wasn’t the widespread calamity that advocates had said it would be, right?

As a response, other Washington advocates and I carried two letters and a story to each of our meetings with our legislators. Greg (not his real name) had a good paying job and was able to provide for himself until he was diagnosed with cancer. The recovery process cost him his job, and he had difficulty staying housed. For several years he'd been on the waiting list with the local housing authority, hoping to get a housing choice voucher to help him stay stably housed while he worked to get back on his feet.

The two letters continued his story. The first, dated February 1, was a note telling him that he'd been selected off of the wait list, and that he was eligible for a Housing Choice Voucher. He just had to find an apartment that fit in the price range, and he would have a place to call home.

The second letter, dated February 20, was a lot less cheerful. It informed him that due to sequestration and uncertainty around the federal budget, his offer for a Housing Choice Voucher was rescinded. No more looking for an apartment. No more ticket to housing stability.

As the New York Times pointed out in their March 3 article As Automatic Budget Cuts Go Into Effect, Poor May Be Hit Particularly Hard, housing programs in particular are bearing much of the cuts. In the past, when a person or family transitioned away from needing a Housing Choice Voucher, that voucher was given to another person or family on already very long waiting lists. Because sequestration is reducing the number of vouchers the housing authorities can support, many have stopped pulling people off their waiting lists and are instead using attrition to let vouchers disappear.

King County Housing Authority, for example, expects that they’ll be able to serve 600 fewer families with vouchers over the next year. Some housing authorities have even had to rescind vouchers from people currently out looking for housing, as was the case in the story above.

Housing authorities across the country are looking into similar measures, as well as other cost-cutting plans, like deferring maintenance and leaving positions vacant rather than rehiring. Some housing authorities are even looking into furloughs and layoffs. The worst story I’ve heard so far is from Tucson, Arizona, where the mayor has said they are looking at evicting 250 to 400 families - up to 1,800 people – from subsidized housing within the next 60 days. That is not being proposed in Washington State. But it's a clear sign of how dire times are.

The Coalition on Human Needs has been collecting articles about the impact of sequestration in communities across the country, including the story from Tucson. You can read their list here.

Housing authorities are really the canary in the coal mine for how sequestration cuts are going to harm the most vulnerable in our communities. Due to the complex nature of federal budgets and the time it takes funds to move into programs and out to communities, we aren’t going to see the full picture of harm cuts will cause for a little while yet. But just because we won’t see the effects of funding cuts for a few months doesn’t mean that sequestration isn’t causing real pain in our communities.

In fact, right now you can find out more about the immediate and future pain sequestration will cause. HUD has put together a sequestration information page, which includes Secretary Shaun Donovan's written testimony on the impacts of sequestration, including his estimate that 100,000 homeless and formerly homeless people are at risk of losing their current housing or emergency shelter. It also includes letters HUD has sent to each state's governor (including our own Governor Inslee), and is being updated with other notification letters about how HUD is expecting sequestration to affect the programs they administer. Check out that page here.

Shaun Donovan at Housing Washington 2012

We'll be paying close attention to how sequestration plays out, and working to get that information back to Congress. They must know how urgent it is that they stop sequestration as soon as possible. If you’re starting to see these effects play out in your community, please let us know.

Remember, this is only week four. Unless Congress acts, sequestration will be in effect for the next 10 years. The sooner we stop it, the sooner we can help folks like Greg get back on their feet into stable housing.



Photo Credits: Patrick Dixon, peoplesworld, and the Housing Alliance.



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