Housing

Tens of thousands of New York City families could lose their rental assistance under President Bush's plan to slash the budget of the nation's largest housing program, a fiscal think tank said in March.

The city stands to lose $104 million from the Section 8 voucher program in 2005 and $277 million in 2009, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, revealed in its report on the Bush budget.

There are only two major ways for localities to cope with the cuts, the group said: Drop people from Section 8 or raise the amount of cash each family must pay in rent.

According to the Center's projections, if the main agencies that administer the 110,000-plus vouchers used in the city-the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) and the City Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD)-decide to cut the number of recipients to make up the shortfall, 13,000 families could be dropped from the program next year and 31,700 families could be ousted by 2009.

If, instead, the agencies raised the rent each Section 8 tenant must pay-spreading the pain equally among recipients-New Yorkers with vouchers could face rent hikes of $73 to $95 per month next year and as much as $248 per month in 2009. In the suburbs, rent increases could be even higher.

Adam Glantz, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, disputes these estimates. "We disagree with their basic projection," says Glantz. "We believe that giving localities greater flexibility in running the program will continue to serve as many or more people" as are receiving vouchers now. But Glantz declined to provide specifics on how New York could make up the difference.

NYCHA and HPD would not comment on the Center's numbers, but both acknowledged that many families would likely lose out under the Bush plan. "We've gone on record saying there would be a loss in vouchers," says NYCHA spokesperson Howard Marder. So has HPD's Carol Abrams: "We anticipate 1,300 to 1,700 of our vouchers would be at risk." The Center's projection was higher, suggesting that 2,300 families might lose their HPD vouchers next year. Neither Marder nor Abrams would address HUD's claim that local control could offset the budget cuts.

The Section 8 voucher program, initiated in 1974 under President Nixon, currently serves more than 2 million families. People who receive vouchers do not get any money. Instead, a family pays one-third of its income in rent, and the government pays the landlord the difference between that and market rent for the apartment.

The Bush proposal would cut more than $1 billion (12 percent) from Section 8 next year and $4.6 billion (29 percent) in 2009, and roll the remaining money into a block grant to allow local agencies more leeway in administering the program. Localities could end the requirement that 75 percent of the vouchers go to families making less than a third of their area's median income, for instance, or impose time limits, cutting off recipients after a set number of years.

The proposal would not make the program noticeably more efficient, says Barbara Sard, the Center's director of housing policy, "unless you consider it efficient to serve less people."