Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

January 22, 2018

The Case for More Federal Housing Assistance

By David Reiss


Corianne Payton Scally et al. of the Urban Institute have posted a Research Report, The Case for More, Not Less: Shortfalls in Federal Housing Assistance and Gaps in Evidence for Proposed Policy Changes. The Executive Summary opens,

Federal housing assistance programs aim to ensure that those who receive assistance have decent, safe, and affordable housing. Unlike some other key safety net programs, however, housing assistance is not an entitlement, which means it does not provide benefits to all who are deemed eligible. Currently, available assistance falls significantly short of the current and growing need for it: only one in five renter households who qualify for housing assistance actually receive any.

Recent proposals, including the recently enacted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the administration’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s A Better Way plan, threaten deep cuts and significant changes to housing assistance. These funding and policy changes will decrease the funds for the preservation and creation of affordable housing, reduce the amount of assistance available, and may undermine the stability of those currently on assistance.

This report provides an overview of the current landscape of housing assistance, its central role in the safety net, and the evidence on contemporary policy proposals. We highlight several critical gaps in our knowledge that suggest we need a serious review of our affordable housing policy with a focus on developing a stronger evidence base before attempting large-scale changes to federal housing assistance programs. (v, citation omitted)

The title of the report is very hopeful in the current political environment, but the report does close with some fundamental questions that members of both parties should struggle with:

  • How should we determine need for housing assistance?
  • What subgroups should be prioritized for housing assistance and for what reasons?
  • How should “affordable” be defined—30 percent of income, or more? Less?
  • What is the public cost of transitioning more households to work versus continuing to provide housing assistance?
  • What are the best practices for coordinating and delivering services for adults? For children and youth?

It would be great to hear definitive Republican and Democratic answers to these questions.

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