Rental Assistance Helps Veterans Fight Homelessness

written by naehblog
January 24, 2014

Today's guest blog post was contributed by Will Fischer, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Rental assistance helps about 340,000 veterans afford decent homes and has been central to recent reductions in homelessness among veterans, as I wrote in a recent report. The HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing voucher program (HUD-VASH), which targets chronically homeless veterans and combines rental assistance with VA supportive services, helps more than 40,000 veterans. Many more veterans get rental assistance through mainstream programs that don’t specifically target them, such as Housing Choice Vouchers, project-based rental assistance, and public housing.

The number of homeless veterans fell by 23 percent from 2009 through 2013, and rental assistance played a key role in this progress. That drop occurred as Congress funded a growing number of HUD-VASH vouchers, as the graph below shows. More broadly, research has found that rental assistance sharply reduces homelessness, suggesting that a significant share of the 340,000 assisted veterans could be homeless without this assistance.

Despite the recent progress, too many veterans struggle to afford housing. In 2012, the most recent year for which complete data are available, 138,000 veterans stayed in a homeless shelter at some point during the year. And, 762,000 veterans lived in households that paid more than half of their income for rent.

Unfortunately, the rental assistance programs that can help address these needs were cut sharply in 2013 under the spending cuts known as “sequestration.” The cuts forced state and local agencies around the country to shelve housing vouchers when participants left the program rather than reissue them to needy people from their waiting lists. If these cuts affected veterans in proportion to their share of the rental assistance population, they left more than 3,000 needy veterans without assistance.

Congress raised 2014 funding enough to allow many agencies to start issuing vouchers and avoid further declines, though not to restore all of the vouchers that had been lost in 2013. State and local agencies should move quickly this year to put the added funds to work helping the neediest low-income people, including homeless veterans.

Congress should finish the job of restoring the vouchers cut due to sequestration when it sets 2015 funding levels, and it should look to measures such as the National Housing Trust Fund and a new renters’ tax credit to address pressing housing needs among veterans and other low-income Americans.