- Economic Justice
Good Housing Policy Reduces Poverty: Congress Must Fund These Essential Programs
The Senate recently passed H.R.3055, a package of appropriations bills for FY2020, which included funding for the departments of Agriculture; Commerce, Justice, and Science; Interior; and Transportation and Housing (T-HUD).
The House has already passed most of its appropriations bills, including T-HUD. Now congressional leaders must reconcile the House and Senate bills and finalize funding levels for all the different programs under the jurisdictions of these departments.
Funding Differences Between House and Senate
It’s unacceptable that only 1 in 4 households that are eligible for assistance eventually receive it.
Included in the Senate T-HUD bill is increased funding for key housing programs, such as Tenant Based Rental Assistance, the Public Housing Capital Fund, and Homeless Assistance Grants. These programs provide critical assistance so people can afford their monthly rent, housing providers can repair and modernize public housing units, and homeless individuals can access shelter.
But the Senate T-HUD bill also cuts funding for important programs, including Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), Native American Housing Block Grants, and the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. These same programs received an increase in funding in the House T-HUD bill. The conference committee must preserve this funding as they reconcile the bill.
The Problem with Extending Past Funding Levels
For housing programs in particular, it’s crucial that Congress avoid “flat funding,” both in the bill itself or through a short-term funding extension or continuing resolution (CR).
Continuing to fund programs at the same level from one fiscal year to the next, despite increases in the cost of living, essentially amounts to a cut.
Continuing to fund programs at the same level from one fiscal year to the next, despite increases in the cost of living, essentially amounts to a cut. This is especially true in housing, where costs tend to increase significantly year over year. When funding remains level and housing costs increase, fewer people can receive much-needed assistance.
CRs have additional negative effects. The lack of long-term funding causes uncertainty that can deter private owners from participating in rental assistance programs and put housing and community development projects on hold. It prevents housing providers from being able to effectively plan for the future, and level funding in the face of increasing housing costs disincentivizes housing providers from seeking out government contracts and participating in programs.
What Is Needed
While we’re pleased the Senate funded critical housing programs, there is more work that needs to be done. It’s unacceptable that only 1 in 4 households that are eligible for assistance eventually receive it. Housing policy has an out-sized impact on reducing poverty, for example:
- Affordable and accessible housing allows families to save more or spend on other critical needs, such as food, healthcare, and education.
- Research has shown that economic and housing instability impedes children’s cognitive development, leading to poorer life outcomes as adults.
- Unstable housing also leads to increased hospital visits and is associated with an increased likelihood of mental health problems in children.
- Housing instability is directly correlated to decreases in student retention rates and contributes to homeless students’ high suspension rates, school turnover, truancy, and expulsions, limiting students’ opportunity to obtain the education they need to succeed later in life.
Governing by continual CRs will only make life more difficult for people who are already struggling to make ends meet. While the Senate T-HUD bill isn’t perfect, we urge Congress to pass the bill and secure much-needed funding for key housing programs.