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Section 8 Changes Under Trump

The Trump Administration has proposed major cuts to the budget of the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and the Section 8 Housing Voucher program is one of the targets. If you're receiving Section 8 benefits, if you're on a waiting list, or if you're thinking of applying, you need to keep track of the proposed changes.

The eighty-year-old Section 8 Program stands at a crossroads, caught between sharply rising housing costs and the federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration. Crushing budget cuts, woefully inadequate funding for building maintenance, and increased demand for public housing assistance are contributing to the crisis. In response, advocates have taken to the streets, and some policy makers at the local level are building creative new ways to combat homelessness with dwindling resources.

Understanding The Origins and Purpose Of Section 8 Housing
The origin of Section 8 goes back to the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, the legislation passed during the Great Depression to try and address the worst economic and housing crisis in American history. The Housing Act was amended and evolved in the 1960s and 1970s to focus on low-income housing and rent assistance.

In 1965, the law was amended to steer low-income tenants to private landlords, with the rent subsidized by the federal government. The modern Section 8 program was the result of another series of amendments designed to address the disproportionate amount of household income low-income families spend on shelter. Tenants in the program are only required to pay thirty percent of their income; the federal government covers the remainder.

The subprograms now operating under Section 8 include New Construction, Substantial Rehabilitation, Existing Housing Certificates, Moderate Rehabilitation, Vouchers, Project-Based Certificates, and the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Voucher Program. All programs are administered at the federal level by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, while local governments handle the vast majority of administration on the ground.

Modern Problems Facing Section 8
The most pressing concern regarding Section 8 programs nationwide is that demand far exceeds supply. The lack of available public housing has deep roots, including the unwillingness of landlords to accept Section 8 tenants in their properties. The reluctance of property owners to embrace the Section 8 program is problematic and often based on incorrect assumptions about the impact on their properties.

Qualifying for public housing assistance does not guarantee you a place to live. Upon receiving your voucher, you are eligible to qualify for actual assistance. The waiting lists are often years long, and some programs refuse to accept new applicants. A voucher isn't worth much if there is no place available to spend it.

Compounding the supply and demand problems is the overwhelming backlog of funding for repairs and maintenance. The shortfall for maintenance under Section 8 is currently over $24 billion nationwide, with only $2 billion allocated to address the problem. This issue will compound itself over time as neglected buildings continue to deteriorate at an accelerated pace.

Proposed Cuts Will Cause Pain
In his proposed 2018 federal budget, President Donald Trump took an ax to many HUD programs, including Section 8. These proposed cuts could not come at a worse time for the 15 million families in need of a subsidy. Even for Americans currently receiving benefits, the proposed Trump administration cuts represent a catastrophic shift in the structure of the program. The impact would touch nearly everyone receiving Section 8 benefits in any way.

President Trump proposes to require a more substantial contribution towards rent every month. Currently, Section 8 voucher recipients pay 30 percent of their net income, meaning income after taxes are deducted, in rent. The Trump proposal increases the rent to 35 percent, which doesn't seem too bad but for the fact that gross income would replace net income. This change means the 35 percent would come off the top before the participant pays taxes.

This seemingly minor shift could cripple the most vulnerable people receiving assistance because it disproportionately hurts large families and those in poor health. Additional proposed changes are the reinstatement of "family caps" and a minimum rent of $50 per month regardless of whether the amount is more than the 35% of gross household income, among others.

The proposed budget also eliminates the Housing Trust Fund and cuts two-thirds of the funding targeted for new construction and renovations of existing units. Finally, in a move raising serious concerns among both Democrats and Republicans, the near-total autonomy previously enjoyed for decades by local communities would be subject to increased scrutiny from the federal government.