WASHINGTON – Low-income housing advocates Friday assailed a Clinton administration plan to replace a federal rental assistance program with housing vouchers.
Residents who live in assisted-housing units in the District and Montgomery County said they fear landlords will refuse to accept the vouchers and they could be priced out of the housing market.
“If I had to go somewhere else, I would be in bad shape,” said Hank Brooks, 68, a resident of the Frederick Douglas Apartments in Anacostia.
“To abandon a program that provides safe, decent and affordable housing for hundreds of thousands of households with low incomes is not an acceptable solution,” said Rikki Spears, chairwoman of the Coalition to Protect Section 8 Housing.
Officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development said landlords would accept the vouchers.
“In our proposals we say that the owners will not be able to discriminate,” said Helen Dunlap, deputy assistant secretary for multi-family housing.
But Dunlap conceded some residents of the Section 8 housing might be priced out of their neighborhoods.
But if the program isn’t revamped, the government might have to cut it altogether, said Rep. Christopher Bond, R-Mo., chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees HUD.
“The cost of Section 8 project-based assistance is reaching crisis proportions,” Bond told the House last week. “Most of these units have been financed with contracts which exceed the local fair market rents.”
He said the federal budget cannot begin to meet the renewal commitments, “threatening hundreds of thousands of families currently receiving assistance with eviction or dramatic rent increases.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, close to a million housing units were built or refurbished under the Section 8 program.
Residents of Section 8 housing pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent – with the government supplying the difference.
Before he received Section 8 assistance, John Crouch and his girlfriend were spending their entire income on rent. They now live in an assisted-housing complex in Rockville.
“We were spending $500 a month, which was everything we had,” he said. “Paying a third of our income really gives us a break.”
Under the voucher system, the government would ensure that recipients pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. But there is a limit. “The vouchers say fair-market rent,” said Elliot Bernold, who manages assisted-housing complexes in the District and Montgomery, “but it’s a percentage. It’s very easy to manipulate the voucher program.” -30-