‘Currently only 25 percent of eligible households receive the housing voucher, meaning that nearly everyone in need of aid does not receive it. The impact of fully funding vouchers would be astounding: it would help an estimated 1.1 million households in New York state alone.’
President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to provide housing vouchers to all eligible families was more than a typical pledge: it was a signal of a new day in America. It would be one of the most impactful changes in decades, helping to stabilize people struggling with housing instability.
It would also be transformative in our ability to tackle a worsening homelessness crisis—and, as homeless services providers, we are especially excited about the ways in which it would help people that are currently or previously experienced homelessness.
The policy change would greatly advance the existing and severely underfunded 1970s-era rental assistance program. Currently only 25 percent of eligible households receive the housing voucher, meaning that nearly everyone in need of aid does not receive it. The impact of fully funding vouchers would be astounding: it would help an estimated 1.1 million households in New York state alone.
The next step is for Congress to pass groundbreaking legislation to bring Biden’s plan to reality by fully funding housing vouchers.
In the meantime, the current version of the Build Back Better reconciliation plan includes $75 billion for new Housing Choice Vouchers. This would add 750,000 vouchers nationally, including 69,000 in New York state. The reconciliation package, which is currently being debated, would be a giant step forward towards Biden’s promise, and it would help hundreds of thousands of people right now.
Make no mistake, the scale of the problem is far-reaching. In New York City alone, there are 77,900 people experiencing homelessness on a given night, including 36,000 adults without children. Expanding housing vouchers would help single adults that are experiencing or have experienced homelessness in many ways: it will help people who are currently homeless find appropriate housing and it will help people that were homeless move to more independent housing.
Many single adults that are experiencing homelessness need extra support to stay in stable housing. Supportive housing, which is affordable housing with support services like counseling, case management and medical support on-site, is a proven tool that has helped thousands of chronically homeless people stay housed and saved governments countless dollars. Housing vouchers can provide consistent rent to help support new supportive housing projects.
Just as important, it will also help individuals move on from supportive housing when they are ready. It is estimated that as many as 3 percent of individuals in supportive housing are ready for housing without services, but they still lack the income to pay for housing on the private market. There are programs to provide vouchers to help them move on, but the programs are underfunded.
Universal rental assistance would mean there would be enough vouchers for all of these people, helping nearly 1,000 individuals move to private housing. This would then free up their beds for those who are currently experiencing homelessness and need supportive housing, which does not meet the current demand.
Universal rental assistance would also help individuals who are homeless but do not need supportive services. There are many single adults experiencing homelessness that can live independently as long as they have help paying the rent. Some of these individuals get Section 8 or local housing vouchers, but there is not enough to meet the demand.
If federal rental assistance covered everyone who was eligible, thousands of single adults could leave shelters or move inside from being unsheltered. It would transform thousands of lives. In fact, at Breaking Ground we know of at least 30 individuals who are living unsheltered but could move into housing right now if we had enough vouchers.
The ongoing homelessness crisis is a direct result of underfunding necessary programs like rental assistance. Biden’s pledge to fully fund housing vouchers would finally change that. And the current version of the Build Back Better reconciliation bill would be a step in that direction. We know how to solve this problem. All we need is the will to fully fund the program that works.
Amie Pospisil is the chief operating officer of Breaking Ground. Frederick Shack is the chief executive officer of Urban Pathways.