Today, Speaker Ryan and House Republicans released an anti-poverty agenda (http://abetterway.speaker.gov/). The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) welcomes a national conversation on solutions to end poverty in the United States. Decreased resources for federal housing programs have exacerbated poverty and inequality. With stagnant wages and skyrocketing rents, the country faces a severe affordable housing crisis and bipartisan action to address these issues is sorely needed.
We’ll send out further analysis in the coming days and weeks, but for now here are four things to keep in mind about the Republican anti-poverty agenda and how it relates to affordable housing.
The Affordable Housing Crisis is Growing
The lack of decent housing affordable to low income people is pervasive and affects every community across the United States. NLIHC’s recent research shows there is no state, metropolitan area or county where a full-time worker earning the prevailing minimum wage can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. The average hourly wage of renters in the US is 25% less than the amount needed to afford to rent a home for their family. Nationwide, there is a shortage of 7.2 million units of housing affordable and available to the lowest income people.
There is an urgent need for a national investment in more homes affordable to those living in poverty. Federal housing programs serve approximately five million low income households, but the needs of many more families go unmet. Those receiving affordable housing subsidies are in many ways the lucky ones who often won a housing lottery to receive the assistance. Only one out of every four eligible families receive the help that they need.
Low income, unassisted households often face housing instability – they are one illness, one job loss, one paycheck away from homelessness. They face threats of eviction, poor housing conditions and are severely cost burdened, paying upwards of 80% of their income towards rent each month. The lack of affordable housing not only creates stress and negative outcomes for their children and families, it increases both poverty levels and costs to the federal government.
Ensuring that all families have a safe and stable place to call home as a path out of poverty should be a public policy priority. Existing affordable housing programs must be preserved, improved and expanded to meet the growing need.
Work Requirements in Affordable Housing Programs are a Red Herring
Speaker Ryan proposes that ‘work-capable’ residents of HUD’s major housing programs be required to seek and retain employment, and that local jurisdictions administering housing programs be given the authority to implement educational training and time limits for assistance. But the fact is that the vast majority of voucher and public housing households are either elderly, disabled, or include someone who works. Of the remaining households, almost half include a preschool child or an older child or adult with a disability who needs the supervision of a caregiver.
Establishing work requirements through rental assistance programs for the remaining six percent of households who are ‘work able’ but not employed would require state and local housing agencies, many of which administer only a small number of housing units and face significant shortfalls in funding for administrative work, to establish burdensome monitoring and enforcement systems for a very narrow segment of rental assistance recipients. This is neither cost effective nor a solution to the very real issue of poverty impacting millions of families living in subsidized housing or in need.
Scarce Federal Resources Should be Directed to Those Most in Need
A guiding principal for the Republican anti-poverty agenda is to focus support on the people who need it most. We couldn’t agree more. To do so, we should look at the full picture of how the federal government supports housing in this country. Each year, we spend about $200 billion to help Americans buy and rent their homes. The bulk of those resources – a full three quarters - go to subsidize the homes of higher-income households, most of whom would be stably housed without the government’s support. Just 25% of federal housing subsidies go to low income renters, those with the greatest need. In fact, each year we spend more to subsidize the homes of some of the wealthiest 5 million families – those making more than $200,000 per year – than we do to assist the poorest 20 million households combined.
Following Speaker Ryan’s guiding principal of driving limited resources to the lowest income families in need requires that we rebalance housing policy. Modest changes to the Mortgage Interest Deduction could result in significant savings to the federal government, enough to make significant inroads towards ending homelessness in this country. The federal government has the resources to end the shortage of housing affordable to the lowest income families and in doing so to reduce poverty levels; it is simply a matter of how these resources are allocated. Instead of subsidizing the mortgages of high income people, we must invest in making rental housing more affordable and available to those most in need of assistance.
Housing Affordability Not Only Reduces Poverty, It Saves the Federal Government Money
Ensuring that people are affordably housed is a path out of poverty, while also benefiting the country’s economy and its future. Recent research has shown that when people were affordably housed their Medicaid costs fell 12%, proving definitively that affordable housing drives down costs to the health-care system. Research has also clearly demonstrated that stable, affordable homes improve children’s educational and health outcomes.
Being affordably housed means more money to invest in our futures. According to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies, families in affordable housing can spend nearly five times as much on health care, a third more on food, and twice as much on retirement savings. They can pay down debt, save to pay for college or buy a home. And being affordably housed allows seniors to age in place, improving mental and physical health, quality of life, independence – and further drives down health care costs.
NLIHC looks forward to working with anti-poverty allies in Congress and the Administration, and with our members and partners across the country, to continue advancing policy solutions to end housing poverty in the United States.
For additional analysis of the Republican anti-poverty agenda, visit: https://hfront.org/2016/06/07/house-republicans-release-anti-poverty-agenda/