By Kim Bernet
The House of Representatives is due to consider the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) by the end of this year. The act will be crucial step forward for the country’s largest housing assistance program. The existing system has long been in need of reform due to instability of funding, shortage of affordable housing, and administrative inefficiencies.
Under the current legislation, funding provided to 2,400 public housing authorities (PHAs) across the country is essentially at the mercy of the economy. Over 150,000 section 8 units were lost over the course of the last 4 years due to funding shortfalls, caused by economic fluctuations. In addition, economic downturns like the current recession create higher demand for assistance, which stretches the agencies resources. To compound the problem, families already receiving assistance usually experience drops in household income. As the agencies supplement rental costs based on income levels, existing vouchers become more expensive for the agencies to maintain.
Unfortunately, the consequences of the cuts are directly placed on those low-income families who are usually the least equipped to handle the burden.
With homelessness and poverty rates on the rise, and roughly 2 million low-income families already relying on the vouchers for housing, the program is crucial to assuring the availability of affordable housing.
Under the new legislation, funding is provided to the agencies based on their previous years’ expenditures and they will also be allowed to retain a small amount of funding as reserves. Additionally, the legislation includes provisions that will promote preservation and production of affordable housing to meet increasing demand. These amendments are crucial to curtail the fluctuations that lead to cut-backs and hamper the ability of low-income families to find housing.
The proposed changes have also streamlined the administrative guidelines outlined in the original act by revising inspection and renter policies. The complex system has been difficult for residents and administrators to use efficiently. The changes will simplify procedures and reduce administrative costs significantly while maintaining tenant protections.
The House Financial Services Committee approved the act in July by a vote of 41-24 , and it is now on the agenda for the full House to consider.