Wednesday, February 27, 2013

What the sequester means for housing in your state

by Blake Warenik, National Housing Conference and Center for Housing Policy

We at NHC have been raising the hue and cry on the impending sequester for quite a while now. As recently as October, the Office of Management and Budget told federal agencies to operate normally, as if a deal was expected (though Ethan Handelman said even then that this development may have been more hope than expectation). And still the cuts loom; if a decision is not reached Friday, the cuts begin automatically.

Though we can't know all of the consequences of the sequester, the folks over at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) have released data on how much housing programs in each state stand to lose without a deal by Friday. It's helpfully broken down into two tables showing how much each state will lose right now; one table shows cuts to housing (including HOME and Native American housing grants) and Community Development Block Grants, and the other shows cuts to rental assistance.

It's an interesting and frightening read. While the sequestration cuts to my home territory of the District of Columbia appear as just a blip—primarily due to its small population—there is one statistic that really drives the message home for me. CBPP estimates that 541 D.C. families will lose their Housing Choice Vouchers if Congress does not reach an agreement to avoid the sequester by Friday. In an environment where more than three-quarters of families who qualify for assistance actually receive it (see page 16 of this CHP report), we should be expanding assistance to more families in need, not cutting it.

Improving housing affordability for low-income families isn't even a very controversial issue. This week's report from the Bipartisan Policy Center's Housing Commission demonstrates rare agreement from both parties that housing resources should be targeted to those at 30 percent of area median income and below. It seems a shame to squander such important room for discussion simply because inaction is easier.

So now, when lawmakers aren't even having the most basic discussions about how to avoid the across-the-board cuts laid as a boobytrap to ensure meaningful deficit reduction measures as part of the 2011 debt ceiling fight, it feels especially frustrating to know that we are rushing headlong into the designated, long-anticipated, worst-case scenario of $86 billion in mandatory, brute-force cuts. Even more frustrating is that the sequester is merely the latest manufactured crisis to come out of Washington and threaten both vital programs and a fragile economic recovery.

When we talk about the effects of the sequester on families, rather than dollars, the foolishness of this crisis becomes clear. How many families in your state will lose access to housing affordability as a result? Read on—if you can stomach it.

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