[Note: HIC-HLRN has issued an Open Letter to President Bush on this matter yesterday, 4 October. Please find it in our urgent action section and support us in claiming the respect of the urban poor`s rights in the USA.]
The Bush administration has proposed reducing the value of subsidized-housing vouchers given to poor residents in New York City next year, with even bigger cuts planned for some urban areas in New England. The proposal is based on a disputed new formula that averages higher rents in big cities with those of suburban areas, which tend to have lower costs.
The proposals could have a "significantly detrimental impact" in some areas by forcing poor families to pay hundreds of extra dollars per month in rent, according to United States Representative Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican. That extra burden could be too much for thousands of tenants, "potentially leaving them homeless," Mr. Shays wrote in a recent letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The changes would affect most of the 1.9 million families who participate in the Section 8 program, the government`s primary housing program for the poor, including 110,000 in New York City. People in the program receive vouchers to help them rent private apartments from landlords who agree to participate.
For a four-bedroom apartment in New York City, HUD has proposed that the fair market rent be reduced from $1,504 a month to $1,286, a drop of more than 14 percent. For practical purposes, that means that a tenant must find an extra $218 to stay in that apartment, or else find something cheaper. A voucher for a three-bedroom apartment would be cut by 7 percent, with smaller cuts for smaller units.
In an interview last night, two top HUD officials - Michael Liu, assistant secretary for public and Indian housing; and Cathy M. MacFarlane, assistant secretary for public affairs - attributed the new national numbers to fresh data from the 2000 census and a new system that averages a city`s rents with those of its surrounding suburbs.
Last month, however, the housing secretary, Alphonso Jackson, suggested a somewhat different rationale for the need to change the Section 8 program, which he said was growing too fast and eating away at other programs. In an Op-Ed piece in The New York Times, he wrote that the housing voucher system was broken and wedded to a fair-market-rent formula that did not reflect current conditions. Many rental markets around the nation have softened, he wrote, and vacancy rates in some areas are at their highest rate in decades.
Those trends, however, are not reflected uniformly around the nation, and particularly not in the New York area.
The new proposal, for example, concludes that fair market rents in two fast-growing cities, Las Vegas and Houston, should increase up to 11 and 7 percent, respec