To combat homelessness and the housing crisis, government funded Section 8 housing vouchers must be more equitably distributed, and the program must be fully supported.
Picture this: You’ve just graduated college and your ‘new’ life is about to begin. You begin searching for jobs in your field of interest and looking for a place to live. After applying to multiple companies, you realize that if you don’t find a job soon, you won’t be able to afford rent or a mortgage payment in your town. Then you realize that the entry-level pay in your ideal career doesn’t meet the standard of living cost in the area.
What can you do? One option is to live at home with your parents until you get on your feet, but who actually wants to stay in their parent’s house for longer than necessary? Another option is to apply for a Section 8 housing voucher. The only problem with this option is that you aren’t guaranteed approval.
Unfortunately, this scenario is the reality for far too many college graduates.
The Section 8 program, funded by The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is set up to provide housing assistance to low income families in need of a home. Those who qualify for Section 8 housing are encouraged to apply and are then approved or rejected for assistance.
To qualify for the housing voucher program, an individual must not make more than 50 percent of the median income of the area they live in, must be a U.S. citizen or must be in the specified category of non-citizens who can qualify for assistance.
After the living unit is approved, there are four parties that must uphold the agreement: the renters, the landlord, the public housing agencies, and HUD itself.
With a Section 8 voucher, renters must comply to the lease and pay 30 percent of their rent each month. The landlord is required to pass the program’s housing quality standards to provide renters a clean, safe living area.
The PHA provides the renters with a bureaucratic middle-man to help find available units and navigate the market, but they also cover the remaining 70 percent of the rent and must inspect the families annually to ensure they still meet the requirements set to receive housing. HUDs responsibility is to fund the program efficiently and monitor the PHAs to make sure they are following the rules of the program.
This organization sound simple, right? But here’s the kicker: Even if a family meets the basic requirements, they still face the possibility of being put on a waiting list that is already backed up for years to come.
According to HUD, housing vouchers are distributed by PHAs who have the authority to approve and disapprove applicants as well as move families of greater need up on the wait list or put certain families over others if needed. This means that a family that has been on the waiting list for months—even years—could be bumped down the list to meet the needs of a different family who has not had to wait as long.
In Brownsville, Tennessee, the waitlist to apply for a Section 8 voucher was closed in November, 2016. If the waitlist isn’t even open to new applicants, the prospect of finding affordable housing grows even more dire.
If a program created by the government is already running out of housing availability to meet the demand of those seeking shelter, then what else is there to be done?
In “Housing in America: An Introduction,” Marijoan Bull found that HUD was able to successfully assist over 2 million people through Section 8 housing in 2015. However, there are still thousands of people without a home in 2018. Demand for housing is higher than most city’s housing stock can accommodate.
Lack of sufficient funding is the root cause of why HUD cannot provide the housing assistance that most of the US needs. But where this money comes from and how assistance is distributed are crucial issues that must be resolved before any substantial reform can happen.
Currently, President Donald Trump has proposed a budget of $41.24 billion for HUD. Now, compare that to the proposed budget of $716 billion in defense. That is a $674.76 billion difference.
Imagine the sheer number of housing opportunities that could be offered if a fraction of a budget that significant was redistributed. We could potentially see an end to homelessness, and perhaps, the current housing market wouldn’t be set at such high prices.
Until we begin to change the way we view housing, not much is going to change. Housing is a human right, not a luxury to those who “deserve” it.
Section 8 housing is an extremely effective organization, and it helps millions of people find homes each year. However, more must be done to combat the percentage of homelessness in the United States.
The ability to apply and be approved for Section 8 housing without a long wait must be equal among all applicants no matter their race, financial history or gender. The federal government needs to stop cutting HUD’s budget and begin putting more resources into affordable housing for the working people of this country.
If the housing crisis isn’t solved, then recent college graduates could be at the greatest risk of not being able to afford skyrocketing city rents — much less saving for homeownership — upon graduation.
In his seminal work of housing in America, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” Matthew Desmond theorizes that “a universal voucher program would change the face of poverty in this country. Evictions would plummet and become a rare occurrence. Homelessness would almost disappear. Families would immediately feel the income gains and be able to buy enough food, invest in themselves and their children through schooling or job training, and start modest savings.”
As young people on the verge of renting our first family homes and starting our own families, we must take action and encourage our representatives to protect our collective future.
We must place the blame where it truly belongs — in the hands of our government. Until then, thousands of recent graduates will continue to struggle to set up their adult lives.
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