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HUD to Houston: Stop Housing Vouchers

(Photo by Katie Haugland)

When it comes to providing fair and equitable housing, Houston isn’t exactly America’s golden child. In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development concluded that the city’s decision to nix a mixed-income project in a wealthy neighborhood violated civil rights. (Mayor Sylvester Turner met with new HUD Secretary Ben Carson last month and hopes to have that charge scrubbed.)

And this week, the Houston Chronicle reported that the Houston Housing Authority will take back a promised 900 housing vouchers.

The news comes on the heels of a HUD letter predicting a $9 million budget gap for HHA. From the letter: “While we recognize that HUD does not have final 2017 appropriations, we have estimated a likely funding level and concluded that your agency will be in a shortfall position by year-end.” HUD says HHA should stop issuing new housing vouchers immediately and take back the rental assistance if a recipient isn’t to a certain stage in the process of finding a home. The latter affects about 900 families (but not, for now, the roughly 18,000 families whose homes are already subsidized through the Housing Choice Voucher Program). A full copy of the letter from HUD can be viewed here.

According to the Chronicle, more than 28,000 families are on the waiting list for vouchers. In a Thursday editorial, the newspaper notes that as Houston grows, it also becomes less affordable:

But the real gut punch will be felt by the 900 workers and families who had a once-promised housing voucher plucked from their hands. The first step on the economic ladder is a stable household. Even that meager level of help has been shut down. Apparently Washington has bigger issues on its agenda: The rich need a bigger slice of the economic pie. Corporations need to pay less in taxes and more on stock buybacks that reward their wealthiest shareholders.

President Donald Trump’s budget blueprint asks for $6 billion in cuts from HUD; Houston obviously won’t be the only city impacted. As Judi Kende, vice president and New York market leader of Enterprise Community Partners, and Ritchie Torres, NYC council member, wrote in a Next City op-ed in March, expected slashes to the New York City Housing Authority will make it bleed.

Cuts to funds for public housing would cripple the city’s ability to provide homes for more than 400,000 people (equivalent to nearly the entire population of Atlanta) and effectively manage its public housing properties, which are valued at more than $1 trillion dollars. Homelessness would increase, progress the city has made to reduce inequality and lift families out of poverty would begin to backslide, and the value of one of New York’s most critical assets would deteriorate.

The proposed cuts have made Carson’s recent “national listening tour” a bit awkward. As Oscar Perry Abello wrote earlier this month:

Discussion about projects or programs that have benefited from HUD programs that his boss wants to cut has become a routine so far on Carson’s listening tour, which has included stops in Miami, Jacksonville, Dallas and Detroit. … While there’s always room for change and reform to improve HUD programming, it has been rare to go on a listening tour with your department’s own budget on the chopping block and no clear answer for how the programs being touted on tour will continue in the face of steep cuts.

Carson was in Columbus, Ohio, this week, and the Columbus Dispatch noted that the HUD secretary once again declined to talk budget details: “I’m going to fight for the people who benefit from the programs,” he said. “I’m not fixated on any particular number.”