Damaging Effects of Sequestration Felt by the Most Vulnerable

written by Kate Seif
May 2, 2013

Last week, we published an entry on the Alliance blog requesting local stories on the impacts of sequestration. As I noted, these on-the-ground anecdotes and news stories will be the key in convincing policymakers to reverse or lessen the impact of sequestration.

While sequestration was only put in place two months ago, already the stories are piling up. Predictably, the news is bad. Take Roger in Fairfax, VA – after 10 years of being homeless, the light at the end of the tunnel was extinguished when the PHA canceled his interview for a Section 8 Voucher due to lack of funds. Or Steven, in Honolulu, HI who fears that this Section 8 Voucher will be taken away and he’ll be forced out on the street. Or a resident in El Paso, TX who is now required to make the choice between striking out on his own or moving to the city’s far less desirable Public Housing. These heartbreaking stories are not unique. In fact, they’re just the tip of the iceberg – there are, and will continue to be, hundreds of stories and thousands of people just like Roger and Steven.

We are already hearing stories from across the country about threats to individuals’ and families’ Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers. From California to Connecticut, people are hearing that they may lose their current housing if their PHAs can’t find a way to keep them housed. Families in Iowa have had their recently-issued vouchers rescinded. Hundreds were taken back in New Orleans, too.

In some places, Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) are being forced to raise rents on their residents in order to keep them housed. A housing authority in Indiana notes that even if it requires increased rents, it will likely have to scale back on basic services such as repairs and flood insurance due to sequestration cuts. The Worcester Housing Authority in Massachusetts will be forced to raise rents nearly 4-fold over two years, even after laying off staff people.

With no money to reissue turnover units, Boulder, Colorado has been forced to freeze its Section 8 waiting lists. Missoula, Montana will be doing the same – phasing out through attrition a number of people being served by the housing authority.

No city or state, regardless of size, and no housing authority will be exempt from these cuts. Cities from New York to Broken Arrow, OK will unquestionably need to make tough decisions about their housing authorities. And we know that when very low-income people lose their housing assistance, they are at increased risk of homelessness.

Most jarringly, these impacts are to PHAs, who are already seeing reduced funding. The impacts of sequestration on programs like HUD’s McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Grants won’t be felt until the next round of funding is available, when Continuums will be forced to make cuts to their programs. For example, communities that use the Emergency Solutions Grants will begin to notice reduced funding as soon as July. Sequestration has, quite simply, placed an undue burden on America’s lowest-income people. There is no doubt that these arbitrary, across-the-board cuts could have a tremendous impact on our efforts to prevent and end homelessness.

However, working together to document these impacts, we CAN have an impact. If your community is being forced to make tough decisions, we want to hear about it