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Sequestration impacts the state's housing voucher program

Posted: May 26, 2013

Today's Boston Globe's front-page article Federal Cuts Hitting Housing Subsidy Program focuses on cuts to the Section 8 voucher program and how those are harming many low-income people in Massachusetts.  For the time being, HUD has chosen to make the mandatory sequestration cuts to mobile vouchers—those that travel with the person rather than the property—rather than the project-based vouchers (which are tied to specific properties) upon which JCHE depends. 

Every voucher represents a household with severe hardship and great need for housing, especially in a housing market like Boston.  So while no cut is a good or easy cut, from a policy perspective it makes  sense that HUD chose to cut the mobile program first.  If HUD cuts the mobile program, some people who expected to get a voucher must wait years longer, which is tragic for that person/family.  If HUD cuts the project-based vouchers, however, not only will people wait longer but the housing stock itself deteriorates, meaning that there are even fewer long-term options for everyone even when the budgets come back up to reasonable levels.

So, JCHE is not directly hit by this particular cut in Section 8 spending, although it points out the vulnerability we face with such a heavy dependence on federal government subsidies.  For the long run, and actually the medium-run since the full extent of the sequestration cuts have not been defined, we need to have contingency plans and ready-to-go strategies for trimming spending in a way that least impacts the lives of our residents.  We are doing that, in the face of the reality that there are no easy targets for spending cuts.  Our budgets are lean.  We use all the dollars allocated to us to maintain our buildings and systems, to bolster resident services and to invest in a well-trained staff.  There’s no fluff.   But we are determined to have options that will least impact our residents or the quality of our structures, and by drawing on the best of everyone’s thinking, we’ll figure something out.  Hopefully, we’ll also identify ways to be less dependent on federal subsidies, but realistically, the federal government is always going to be critical to meeting housing needs in high-cost areas such as Boston.  Even in better financial times, subsidies are still precious commodities with long waiting lists.  Let’s hope today’s Globe piece broadens the understanding and support for affordable housing.

May 26, 2013

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