Judge Forces HUD to Allow 200,000 Section 8 Holders to Get their Move On

Gulfport   Another day, another dollar, and again a judge, this time a federal one, pulls the rope up to ground again to take another small step in preventing the country from going to hell in a hand basket.

The judge, Beryl Howell, of the prestigious U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, overturned a HUD attempt to subvert a late stage Obama rule allowing Section 8 voucher recipients increased mobility in finding rental accommodations and improving equity prospects for their families. Secretary Ben Carson and HUD under pressure from Home Builders and other lobbyists had delayed the rule change for two years, ostensibly for more study and claiming that it might allow local housing authorities more time to get their acts together.

The immediate impact is huge because it allows 200,000 section 8 voucher holders in twenty-three different metropolitan areas to take advantage of the ruling and access a wider range of neighborhoods and higher rental allowances. The metro areas are a good cross section of the country: Atlanta, Bergen-Passaic, N.J, Charlotte, Chicago, Colorado Springs, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Worth, Gary (Ind), Hartford, Jackson, Ms, Jacksonville, FL, Monmouth, NJ, Sarasota, FL, Melbourne, Fla, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Diego, Tampa, Honolulu, Washington, and West Palm Beach.

Here’s why this decision and the rule itself is so important.

As the provision of public housing has plummeted the fig leaf standing for US social housing policy has been the provision of Section 8 vouchers to subsidize the rent for low income families in privately offered apartments. This is not an entitlement program. Vouchers are not unlimited, pushing hundreds of thousands across the country on to waiting lists, seemingly forever. Vouchers are also time-limited making it virtually impossible in some tight housing markets (see the list above) for holders to find decent, affordable units and landlords, who have huge power in this equation, to agree to rent to them.

The previous way of calculating the rental subsidy was to figure the average for the entire metropolitan area. In tight markets with highly divergent rental levels, the rule effectively meant that the only available units were in lower income neighborhoods, boxing families out of opportunities for better schools, job networks, and other social and economic advantages. The new rule, now reinstated, calculates the average rents and the subsidy level by zip codes, essentially opening up the entire metropolitan area for potential occupancy by section 8 voucher holders, because the levels of subsidy will rise with the relative amenities of the neighborhood.

Sure, it will obviously cost the government more, but it will open up increased opportunities for lower income families, allow us to make some desperately needed progress on racial and equity issues, and generally diversify our neighborhoods. The next step will be to expand this rule nationally, past these twenty-three metropolitan areas, but for now, this is good news, allowing families to get their move on!

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United Kingdom’s Bedroom Tax Invades America, Hitting New York City First

Maria_Isabel_Housing_787_Wales_Av_149_St_jehNew Orleans    In the year that I have traveled back and forth to England and Scotland, in talking to organizers, advocates, and activists involved in housing, there is no single issue of Prime Minister David Cameron’s brutal austerity program that continues to provoke more outrage and opposition than the so-called “bedroom tax” imposed on social housing in the United Kingdom or what we call public housing in the United States. Having been so thoroughly schooled on this issue, it was a shock to see a piece mildly buried on the 24th page of the New York Times heralding that the bedroom tax has come to New York City housing units in the time of progressive Mayor Bill de Blasio. Worse, the pictures accompanying the article were not of massive protests, but of sad, forlorn tenants. WTF?!? This is a foreign import that has to be stopped on the order of killer bees at the Mexican border, Chinese carp in the Great Lakes, and NAFTA all over North America.

The main difference between New York City and the United Kingdom is that most of the 9000 tenants being slammed in the city are in section 8 housing where their rent is subsidized in privately provided housing units. Otherwise this blunt sword is swung about the same way as the Cameron government imposed it. The only real difference in a subtext to the coming Scottish independence vote is that the Scottish Parliament had resisted and added a number of other delays and exemptions mitigating some of the impact, and allowing some local councils wider discretion. Here we have a local “council” or city government embracing the horror!

The NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development “declared more than 9000 households ‘overhoused.’ Such tenants were told to move to smaller, less expensive apartments or, if they chose to stay put, to be prepared to pay a higher rent in most cases because their subsidy would shrink.” Remember the “higher rent” would have been on top of the 30% of their gross income already being collected. The bedroom tax is the coercive demand that such desperate tenants pay more for what they already have.

This is not a thoughtful public policy or response to fiscal issues, but a blunt instrument in NYC, just as it was in the UK. Two people living in a two bedroom apartment must shoehorn into one bedroom, regardless of gender, relationship, age, or disability. One of the exemptions approved in Scotland considers the problems of live-in home health aides and space for wheelchairs, breathing and other medical equipment, but not New York which is strictly following the Cameron playbook. The new policy in New York seems to affect almost one-third of the units the agency administers.

But, here’s what was even more shocking to me.  This is not even a new policy in New York City, but a rollout of a bedroom tax that NYCHA, the New York City Housing Agency has already been administering in public housing projects, where singles go to studios and two-person households to one-bedroom spaces, come hell or high water.

Now, I’m worried and will have to find some time for some quick calls and research and get back to you ASAP.  Did New York City import the UK’s Conservative Party program or did Cameron shoplift it from New York City on some jaunt abroad?  And, if this was an artifact from Mayor Billionaire’s time, why is Mayor Progressive de Blasio sitting still and silent for this?  Or, horror and shame, what if this huge issue in the United Kingdom in the United States has been just something that we rolled over and allowed to happen?

The Times talks about lawsuits, but, sadly, that seems way too little and way too late, when a humane policy for lower income working families in publicly supported housing should have been a basic human right.

 

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