August 6, 2004
THE REVOLUTION WILL NOT BE TELEVISED:
A Housing Plan in Need of Repair (ALPHONSO JACKSON, 8/06/04, NY Times)
Here's the problem: under Section 8's current rules, Washington provides money to local public housing authorities around the country for a precise number of units each year, without regard to the number of families that could benefit from the same amount of money if it was used more effectively. This doesn't make sense. If a housing authority is limited to providing a specific number of vouchers no matter how efficient it is with the financing, what incentive does it have to control costs and serve more families? None. That's one reason the waiting lists are so long for Section 8 housing in many cities.
Moreover, under the current rules, the dollar amount of vouchers for rental payments in every housing market is prescribed by a system known as "fair market rent.'' Based on imprecise government data, these figures rarely reflect true market value. Over the past few years, most rental markets have softened and vacancy rates are the highest in decades.
Under our flexible voucher program, HUD would eliminate this requirement and provide each housing agency with a specific budget and would allow them to serve as many families as possible. How many more families could we serve? Consider this example from our own backyard: in the Washington ZIP code 20020, HUD provides 1,733 families with Section 8 vouchers to rent two-bedroom apartments. While the average rent for such units is $860, the average paid by the District of Columbia Public Housing Authority is $960.
Under our proposal, the authority could pay the actual market rent and would save enough money to aid 200 additional low-income families in that Washington neighborhood alone. Imagine what such a change would mean nationwide. And Washington is on the low end of the scale - in other cities, the disparity in rents is far more egregious. There is another major change we would like to see. In 1998 Congress enacted a quota system that gives Section 8 vouchers almost exclusively to families making less than 30 percent of a given area's median income. This has had the unintended consequence of shutting the door for voucher assistance on men and women who are working hard and raise their income above the quota level, but remain too poor to afford a home. This is precisely the wrong message to send. The flexible voucher program, while still serving low-income families, would remove the quota system. Housing agencies would no longer have to discriminate against those moving up the economic ladder.
Voucherization is the Third Way/compassionate conservatism/New Democratism. Posted by Orrin Judd at August 6, 2004 9:05 AM