Tuesday, July 19, 2005

[Cross posted at Infinite Dia(b)logue.]

This is an update of something I wrote almost a year ago. Anyway, HUD is probably going to try and implement some changes to the voucher program which will hurt those who have vouchers and the housing authorities that issue them.

By the way, the waiting list for a voucher in Chicago has 9,756 names on it. The list has been closed for years. No new vouchers have been issued during the period it has been closed (other than those mandated by the loss of site-based Section 8 units).

The changes are similar to what Secretary Alphonso wrote about in his op-ed piece last August.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson has written an opinion piece in today's Times. The Times should be ashamed of allowing such propaganda to be spilled on their pages. Examples of the lies, er, inaccurate statements:

1. Jackson blames the need to fund Section 8 vouchers as a cause for cutting the National Science Foundation. Really? Is there some sort of actual accounting that can prove this? I'll bet that I could make a similar claim that increased defense spending caused the NSF cuts. Besides, when has the Bush administration cared about science anyway? They consistently do the opposite of what scientific consensus proposes, i.e. the EPA report on lower Manhattan after 9/11, global warming, arsenic levels, etc.

2. Jackson states, "Over the past few years, most rental markets have softened and vacancy rates are the highest in decades." Census data proves his statement is wrong. The vacancy rates for 1990 and 2000 are as follows:

1990 (US population 248,709,873; MSA population 192,725,741):
% Vacant Unit of all US Housing Units - 10.09% (10,424,540 vacant units)
% Vacant Units of all MSA Housing Units - 8.22% (6,379,049 vacant units)
% Vacant Units per US Population - 4.15%
% Vacant Units per MSA population -3.31%

2000 (US population 281,421,906; MSA population 229,192,868):
% Vacant Unit of all US Housing Units - 8.99% (10,424,540 vacant units)
% Vacant Units of all MSA Housing Units - 7.21% (6,637,067 vacant units)
% Vacant Units per US Population - 3.70%
% Vacant Units per MSA population - 2.90%

Clearly vacancy rates have tightened in the last ten years. All the information is available via the American Factfinder website.

3. Jackson also claims that if Sec. 8 vouchers could be more flexible (that they did not require a certain fixed payment) that housing authorities would be able to help more people. To support his claim he compares the average rent with the average Sec. 8 paid rent in one zip code for Washington, DC (20020) Jackson ignores some critical factors in this scenario.

a. 20020 is not exactly the average neighborhood for the US or MSAs. It's 96% African American. And in 2000, the median rent asked was $504. These rent figures change quickly over time so 2004 could be higher as he states. Still, the average rent in DC as a whole was $518 in 2000. Maybe it has gone up as well. For the DC Urban Area it was $713. Shouldn't Sec. 8 holders be allowed to rent anywhere in the region? If the voucher is flexible, and the HUD budget is decreased (as proposed by the Bush administration), housing authorities will feel pressure to lower the value of the voucher. This will perpetuate concentrations of poverty and, in most urban areas, patterns of racial segregation.

b. Sec. 8 voucher holders often need to show they can pay more than average rent because of the stigma associated with the voucher. This stigma is informed by prejudices based on race, class, disability, and familial status (presence of children) among other ignorant considerations. If Jackson was serious he'd advocate for legislation that prohibited landlords from refusing a tenant based on their Sec. 8 status. Currently, most municipalities allow landlords to refuse someone with a voucher.

c. In most cities and regions, HUD's "fair market rent" (FMR) is lower than the average rent asked for vacant units. In Chicago, FMRs are actually decreasing for three and four-bedroom units. Meanwhile the housing market is booming and more expensive than ever. HUD uses a random dialing technique to determine FMRs. It is woefully inadequate in its implementation and its sample size.

4. Housing Authorities would be freer to deny mobility moves (to higher-opportunity areas) or portability moves (from one housing authority to another) because of the increased cost. This would likely be in direct conflict with the Fair Housing Act and HUD's duty to affirmatively further fair housing in all of its programs.

5. Jackson states that Section 8 has grown from 36% of the HUD budget to over 50%. He doesn't state that many other programs in HUD's budget have been cut or eliminated. (This includes money for fair housing by the way.) And, he doesn't;t explain that federal policy has been to decrease public housing and place-based subsidized housing and use vouchers in their place.

6. There are other dumb statements. Jackson points out that the voucher regulations are 120 pages. This is a small number of pages for a federal regulation but people think it sounds big so he put it in there.

The official press release from HUD is here.

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