Sequester hammer drops on housing

From the Green Party Shadow Cabinet
September 10, 2013
Most Americans do not see or hear about it, but the devastating effects of the bipartisan federal sequester are now emerging. Take a look at this graphic eight-minute video: http://www.siliconvalleydebug.org/articles/2013/08/26/priced-out-valley-sequester-cuts-devastate-section-8-housing-tenants
The March 1 across-the-board cuts took away $2 billion from the housing and homelessness programs of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), or about 6% of what it requires to continue assisting the families it did in 2012. The most immediate impact has been on rental subsidies because it directly withdraws funds from those families most in need. The Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program has been the hardest hit, with up to 140,000 fewer families expected to be served by early 2014.
Also cut were project-based Section 8 vouchers, public housing, homeless assistance, Native  American housing, and housing for seniors and people with disabilities. Taken together, all of HUD’s programs were already grossly inadequate to meet the need: only about a quarter of families eligible for rental assistance actually receive it, with many stranded on waiting lists for a decade or more.
In most areas, local housing authorities absorbed the cuts by so-called “shelving” of the vouchers: they freeze the waiting lists and do not reissue vouchers when families leave the program. This has happened in Chicago, Durham, Los Angeles, Oakland, Rochester, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Salt Lake City, Lincoln Nebraska, New York City, and countless other jurisdictions. Others are rescinding vouchers after they were issued when the recipient fails to find an apartment quickly enough. Still others have simply increased the tenant portion of the rent by raising it above the traditional 30% of income, or by reducing the payment standard. Santa Clara County, California has enacted some of the worst rent increases in the nation, from 10% to up to 900%, by eliminating deductions and reducing voucher sizes, in addition to an overall increase.
Even more alarming, this is just the first year in an auto-piloted process designed to increase these cuts every year until 2021. The sequester is so cruel and stupid that neither party will now take credit for it. However, the fact is that both supported it. It passed the Republican House of Representatives, the Democratic Senate, and was signed by the Democratic president.
The sequester makes us take a hard look at ourselves. Who are we as a people, and what do we stand for? Demagogues attack Section 8 housing as “enabling” the poor, but the fact is over half of all HUD housing assistance goes to families where the head of household is a senior or disabled. To demand that they “get a job” or be removed from the program is unrealistic and unreasonable.
Many advocate that the poor, seniors, and disabled simply leave high-rent areas to make room for “value creators”. Is this the kind of community we want to live in? Do we want to be known as a place where the economy uses up our workers until they are too injured or too old to be productive, and then rudely expels them from our midst? What if they are our own family members? Are these our family values?
Some people are angry because they work hard and feel they are being asked to subsidize others when they barely get by themselves. This is understandable. But is not a better solution to expand this program so all the people who need it are helped, rather than cut it and spread the misery? It is not as if we as a country are suddenly too poor to take care of our own people. We have more wealth now than ever before in our history. The problem is that it has been redistributed upward into the hands of the corporations and extremely wealthy.
An economy and a society that has no room for the poor, elderly, and disabled is broken and needs to be replaced. It definitely needs government intervention such as the Section 8 housing program. The Green New Deal advocated by Jill Stein and Cheri Honkala would reorder our priorities by putting protection of human life before corporate profit. The purpose of the economy should be to serve people, not vice versa. Human life is sacred. Let us begin to act like it, reverse this sequester, and provide for the basic needs of our people.
~ Sandy Perry serves as Secretary of Housing in the Green Shadow Cabinet of the United States. 

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