CBPP Releases Research on Benefits of Expanding Access to Housing Choice Vouchers

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) released a report, “More Housing Vouchers: Most Important Step to Help More People Afford Stable Homes.” The report explains the benefits of expanding Housing Choice Vouchers to all eligible households, why expansion should be phased in, and how such assistance is a necessary complement to supply-side investments.

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program helps people with the lowest incomes to afford housing in the private market, by paying landlords the difference between what a household can afford to pay and the rent itself, up to a certain payment standard (see Advocates Guide, p. 4-1). Vouchers currently help more than 2 million low-income households afford decent, stable housing. Due to inadequate funding, however, only 1 in 4 households that are eligible for a voucher receive any form of federal rental assistance.

The authors outline the extent of the need for housing assistance before the pandemic and the expansion of need as a result of the crisis. Examining 2014-2018 American Community Survey data, they find 24 million people in low-income renter households were severely housing cost-burdened, spending more than half their income on housing. Among those severely cost-burdened low-income renters, 62% are people of color. This does not include the approximately 580,000 people experiencing homelessness who are unable to afford any home. Some 5.7 million working renter households, approximately 20% of all working renter households, were severely cost-burdened. They note that the economic fallout from COVID was more likely to affect workers in low-wage industries and people of color, so the need for rental assistance is greater today.

The report includes a survey of the wide-ranging benefits of receiving a voucher. Vouchers reduce homelessness, housing instability, and overcrowding. Households with vouchers have more to spend on basic necessities like food, healthcare, and education. Children in households with vouchers change schools less often. When voucher holders are able to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods, their children have greater economic success. 

The authors argue that expansion of the voucher program should be phased in, to allow time for housing agencies to build administrative capacity and for the rental market to absorb the vouchers. They argue that successful implementation of an expansion would eventually require changing the way the program is funded. Currently the voucher program receives “discretionary” funding, which means that the funding level is determined by an annual appropriations process. Mandatory appropriations, by contrast, would enable the voucher program to expand automatically when people need more help.

Finally, the authors find that voucher expansion is a useful complement for investments in increasing and preserving the supply of affordable housing. Since construction subsidies like the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit rarely produce housing with rents affordable for extremely low-income renters, those households need additional subsidies to afford their housing.

Expanding rental assistance to every eligible household is one of the four planks in NLIHC’s HoUSed campaign. More details about the campaign can be found here: https://nlihc.org/housed

The CBPP report can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/32uENVP