Coalition letter to members of the U.S. House of Representatives expressing concern over funding for the Section 8 housing voucher program

July 24, 2003

To: Members of the U.S. House of Representatives

Re: Funding for the Housing Choice (“Section 8”) Voucher Program

As members of the faith community, we are writing to express our concern about funding for the Section 8 housing voucher program. Our organizations serve millions of low-income individuals and families who, despite their best efforts, are struggling to meet their basic needs and to achieve economic stability. To many of those we assist, the lack of affordable housing presents a considerable obstacle, and the Section 8 voucher program offers in turn a critical form of assistance. Through our work, we are witness to the important role that housing vouchers play in preventing homelessness, and in helping low-income individuals and families to make progress towards economic stability.

Congress has for many years expressed a strong commitment to the Section 8 voucher program, consistently voting to increase the number of vouchers authorized and to fully fund all authorized vouchers. This commitment has been important, as the need for housing assistance has continued to expand. In most communities, there are long waiting lists for Section 8 vouchers, and it is estimated that only one third of eligible households receive voucher assistance.

To our disappointment, however, Congress appears to be retreating from this commitment. In the appropriations law for 2003, Congress failed, for the first time in recent memory, to include funding for incremental Section 8 vouchers. This week, the House Appropriations Committee reported out a VA-HUD appropriations bill for 2004 that would, by its own estimate, fund only 96 percent of authorized Section 8 vouchers, and again includes no funding for incremental vouchers.

Moreover, while we appreciate that the House Appropriations Committee has made a sincere effort to improve on the President’s budget request for the voucher program, and we recognize that estimating future voucher costs is difficult, there is reason to believe that the Committee’s estimate is overly optimistic. Recent analyses performed independently by the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) suggest that the Committee’s estimate is based on voucher cost assumptions that are too low. For example, in an analysis of the most recent voucher cost data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, CBPP estimates that the Section 8 appropriation in the House bill would be sufficient to renew only 91 percent of authorized vouchers, and is approximately $580 million short of the funding that will be necessary to fully renew vouchers leased in 2004. A shortfall of this magnitude would have a destructive impact on thousands of vulnerable households—85,000 households, by CBPP’s estimate—the great majority of which are working families, elderly, or disabled.

We therefore urge you to renew Congress’ commitment to fully fund the Section 8 voucher program. Specifically, we ask that you increase the Section 8 appropriation sufficiently to ensure that all authorized vouchers will be funded, and to make certain that no households using vouchers in the coming year will be denied funding.

As faith-based organizations, we are committed to strengthening our communities by assisting those who are the most vulnerable, and we believe that our work is not simply a matter of charity, but of responsibility, righteousness, and justice. We urge you to assist us in our work by renewing Congress’ commitment to fully fund and expand the Section 8 voucher program.

Sincerely,
American Baptist Churches USA
Call to Renewal
Catholic Charities USA
The Episcopal Church, USA
McAuley Institute
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office
United Jewish Communities
Volunteers of America