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VHA Richmond Times Dispatch Op Ed: Budget cuts will exacerbate housing crisis

Richmond Times Dispatch, May 28, 2023, by Isabel McLain

Ongoing debt ceiling negotiations in Washington currently include proposals to cut domestic spending that would result in at least a 23% reduction in funding for key housing programs that the lowest-income Virginians rely upon to survive.

Housing programs are already negligently underfunded, and further cuts will have devastating impacts here in Virginia. It is not an exaggeration to say that the number of people forced to live on the street will skyrocket, along with the number of people barely able to keep a roof over their heads. These proposed cuts will be visible in every community across our commonwealth.

Everyone deserves a place to call home. Using the threat of pushing people into homelessness to reach an agreement on our nation’s debt ceiling is wrong. The Virginia Housing Alliance urges Congress and the White House to leave intact funding for housing programs.

In Virginia and across the nation, more families are struggling to make ends meet. Rents are rising, eviction filings are reaching pre-pandemic levels and homelessness is increasing in our communities. Our nation has a severe shortage of affordable housing: Research shows that there are only 35 affordable apartments for every 100 extremely low-income families in the United States. With such few options, the vast majority of these households pay more than half of their limited income on rent. In Virginia alone, more than 300,000 affordable rental units are needed to ease the housing cost burden for low-income households.

Programs such as the Community Development Block Grant, the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, and the Housing Choice Voucher and Public Housing programs all provide critical resources to keep families in their homes and build new affordable housing. These programs have been chronically underfunded for years and are once again the target for draconian cuts.

Further disinvestment will only exacerbate our housing crisis. For example, only 1 of 4 families eligible for federal rental assistance currently receives the help they need due to this underfunding. According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the proposed budget cuts would widen this gap, likely eliminating rental assistance for nearly 1 million of the families that receive it now. In Virginia, the cuts would eliminate over a quarter of the total Housing Choice Vouchers in use. Such severe funding reductions will likely result in mass evictions. Furthermore, the proposed cuts would reduce the already limited capacity of our country’s homeless assistance programs, meaning that nearly 120,000 fewer people experiencing homelessness will receive services.

Even if these specific budget proposals do not become reality, funding for these programs should not be up for negotiation. As a country, we are still recovering from the last time similar cuts were proposed in 2010. The resulting compromise, called the Budget Control Act of 2011, had a devastating impact on HUD funding for 10 years. Because current negotiations stem from such an extreme proposal, Congress may attempt another compromise with less severe cuts, but the consequences for our nation will be dire regardless. Rather than disinvesting in affordable housing during a crisis, we must expand such investments to:

  • Ensure rental assistance is available to everyone who is eligible.
  • Build more homes that are affordable to people with the lowest incomes.
  • Create permanent tools to help stabilize families in a crisis.
  • Strengthen and enforce renter protections.

Investments in affordable housing and homelessness programs are not just numbers on a page, they represent critical support for real families, for our neighbors. If approved, these cuts would mean the difference between thousands of Virginians having a safe place to call home or being forced to sleep on the street. We call on Congress to fully fund and prioritize affordable housing and homelessness resources.

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