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Funding Shortfall for Housing Vouchers Could Have Serious Health Consequences for Children

September 2009

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reports that funding shortfalls for the 2009 Housing Choice Voucher Program (also known as ‘Section 8’) could cause state and local housing agencies to terminate vouchers or raise rents to levels beyond the financial reach of many families.

Summary of Findings

  • State and local housing agencies will be forced to reduce or eliminate rental assistance to thousands of families due to a federal funding shortfall.
  • These cutbacks could push more children and families into the ranks of the “hidden homeless” — families that move frequently, crowd into apartments that are too small, or live doubled up with other households when they cannot find affordable housing.
  • Children’s HealthWatch has found that children in hidden homeless families are at increased risk for poor health, nutrition, and growth, as well as developmental delays.

Affordable Housing Protects Children’s Health and Development

Housing subsidies protect children’s health. Children’s HealthWatch research has shown that young children whose families have a housing subsidy are less likely to be seriously underweight than young children whose families are eligible for but do not receive a subsidy.

Nationally, 53% of the households that receive vouchers are families with children. These vouchers generally limit rents to 30% of a tenant’s income. When housing costs are too high, families are often forced to move frequently or to live in overcrowded apartments or doubled up with friends or family. Children’s HealthWatch research has shown that “hidden homeless” children, whose families live crowded or doubled up or have moved twice or more in the past year, are more likely to be:

  • Food insecure
  • Child food insecure (a more severe form of food insecurity)
  • In fair or poor health
  • At risk for developmental delays
  • Gaining weight too slowly

Housing agencies need an additional $130 million in voucher funding in 2009 to avoid cuts in assistance. Cost-cutting measures will likely vary among the housing agencies but may include:

  • Not issuing vouchers to families on the waiting list when other families leave the program
  • Reducing the dollar value of vouchers, thereby raising rents
  • Reducing rents paid to property owners
  • Terminating vouchers of current voucher holders

If the housing agencies respond to reductions in funding solely by terminating housing vouchers, CBPP estimates that at least 33,000 households would lose housing assistance.

States facing the largest cuts in vouchers 

  Voucher Funding Shortfall Voucher Cuts Needed to Address Shortfall
New York $22,620,868
4,034
California $13,242,869
2,538
Florida $10,855,080
2,382
Alabama $7,793,880
2,213
Michigan $7,838,331
1,752

Source: Rice, Douglas. Funding Shortfalls Causing Cuts in Housing Vouchers: Tens of Thousands of Low-Income Families Facing Higher Rents, Loss of Assistance This Year. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. September 14, 2009.

Conclusion

Congress can keep families in affordable housing and protect children’s health if it acts quickly. Maintaining current vouchers is critical to protecting the supply of affordable housing, especially as unemployment grows and many families struggle to make ends meet. Cutting vouchers will only push more families into the ranks of the hidden homeless. Research by Children’s HealthWatch has shown that young children in these families are at risk for poor health, nutrition and growth, as well as developmental delays. Decreasing support for housing vouchers will increase funding requirements for both education and health care as more children suffer from developmental delays and food insecurity. Timely Congressional action to protect the Housing Choice Voucher Program ensures that families have the stable, affordable housing essential to children’s health.