This post was written by Alliance President and CEO Nan Roman and Sunia Zaterman, Executive Director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA).
While it has been said that programs for the poor will be exempted from sequestration, that is not precisely true. In fact, support for very poor families who must rely on federal housing assistance for a roof over their heads is being cut. And while the effects of those cuts may not always be immediate, they will be devastating.
Sequestration comes at a bad time for those who need help to pay the rent. The federal government just this week reported that 8.5 million extremely poor households pay more than half of their income for rent - a number that has gone up 40 percent since 2007. This is not because they are doing anything wrong, but because there are millions fewer low cost housing units than there are households who need them. Families who have barely enough to live on to begin with, and who then have to spend most of that on rent, have a very difficult time affording food, health care and other basics. They are at high risk of homelessness.
Both homeless and housing assistance programs are being cut by the sequestration.
The effect on the housing programs will be immediate. In fact, in anticipation of sequestration some agencies that distribute housing vouchers stopped giving them to new families in order to avoid the eviction of the families they already help. This means that tonight, families who could have been housed will instead be homeless in shelters and cars. Others households will be unstably and unsafely doubled up with family members and friends or continue to spend more than they can afford on a place to live.
And this is the impact before sequestration. When the cuts actually occur, families will lose their assistance, and program administration will be cut, causing some agencies to stop offering certain types of help altogether. This will put even more households at risk of homelessness.
And if they become homeless, they will find less aid, since federal support of homeless programs will also be cut (although most of these cuts will not take effect until next year). Delivered through local nonprofit organizations, the homeless programs meet basic needs for shelter, food and health care. But they do much more, moving quickly to get people back into housing. Despite their efficiency and effectiveness, the current lack of resources means that 42 percent of those who are homeless on any given night do not even have shelter. Cuts will mean that more of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our nation - including children, elderly people, and those with disabilities -- will be unable to get even this most basic, life-saving assistance.
It is estimated that over 125,000 families and individuals - more than half of whom are elderly and disabled - may lose their housing through the cuts to the housing assistance programs. Some 100,000 people will be affected by the cuts to homeless assistance. While some programs that aid poor people are exempt from sequestration, these efforts to meet the basic needs of the poorest people are not.
Sequestration was meant to be the catastrophic option that would force Congress to do the hard, bipartisan work of addressing our difficult budget issues. That didn't work, and the sequestration option has gone into effect. And it will indeed be catastrophic: catastrophic at least for homeless and low income people who are caught between a market that cannot provide housing they can afford, and a government that cannot balance its books.