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Affordable Housing-More Subsidy Vouchers and Protections Are Needed

The Economist December 11th-17th, 2021 pp20|United States|Housing|”To rent or not to rent” “How landlords thwart America’s attempts to house the poor people.”

Read The Economist for all the details.

Summary by 2244

Image from March 2021

If you’ve ever rented an apartment in America then you probably have heard of Section 8 “now known as the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP)...a federal housing-assistance scheme that subsidizes rent for 2.3m poor American households lucky enough to get their hands on a voucher.” Qualified candidates pay “30% of their monthly income towards rent and the federal government covers the rest.” Also you might have heard some landlords bemoaning Section 8 tenants with the angst being, in wealthier neighborhoods, “landlords who refuse to rent to [Section 8] families because they don’t want to deal with the paperwork and extra inspections that come with the subsidy-or because of outright discrimination.” “Nearly half of voucher-holders are black, 70% are racial minorities and about a third earn less than $10,000 a year.”

The goal of the HCVP is affordable housing but also to “help poor families move to wealthier, safer neighborhoods…a way to increase social mobility.” As it turns out estimates suggest that nearly “10.4m households” are eligible or four-fold more than currently available. The gap varies by locale with “Orlando, Charlotte and Phoenix” potentially benefiting “most from a policy where vouchers were given to all that qualify.” “Build Back Better” was to provide $75b for vouchers but that has been trimmed to “300,000 new vouchers costing $24b.”

As it is, those who are granted vouchers struggle to actually land housing for many reasons; the rental market inventory is tight, vouchers must be used within two months and getting extensions are difficult, security deposits can be costly, lack of transportation slows the search process and most importantly landlords have an “outsize[d] role in choosing whom to rent to. Landlords in poor neighborhoods seek out Section 8 while, as mentioned, those in wealthier areas don’t. In one study “researchers…found that they had to look at 39 advert[isements] to find one potential home. “75% of property owners in Fort Worth and Los Angeles” when surveyed said they would decline vouchers but denials were 31% in Newark NJ and 15% in Washington DC-these latter cities “have laws protecting families with vouchers from discrimination.”

Suggestions for improvement include; Federal incentive programs to landlords, adjusting voucher funding based on zip code rather than broad metropolitan area data and establishing a federal law to protect vouchers-holders from discrimination.”


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