NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Block Grants for Housing

April 29, 2003

Legislation will be introduced in Congress today to overhaul federal housing assistance for the poor, disabled and elderly along the lines of the 1996 welfare reforms. The Bush administration is proposing a $13 billion initiative called Housing Assistance for Needy Families (HANF).

HANF would replace with state block grants the Section 8 rent vouchers received by nearly 2 million families. Under Section 8:

  • An eligible renter obtains a voucher from one of 2,500 local housing authorities that contract with the federal government and takes it to any private landlord willing to accept it.
  • Aid recipients pay no more than 30 percent of their income in rent up to a certain limit, with the government picking up the rest.
  • About one voucher in 10 is not used; however, only one of four eligible families currently is helped.

Conservatives have favored vouchers over government-owned housing, because it relies on the private marketplace. But Howard Husock, a researcher at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government who is affiliated with the Manhattan Institute, called Section 8 the "last redoubt of non-time-limited public assistance."

Several communities across the country were given freedom in the late 1990s from many Section 8 rules.

  • In two Delaware counties, the State Housing Authority four years ago combined waiting lists for housing vouchers and public housing and gave each family a deadline for getting off -- first three years, later extended to five.
  • The 650 families in the program are referred to such services as transportation, child care and job training, and it requires that adults who are not elderly or disabled go to school or hold a job.
  • In the only rule of its kind in the country, families are penalized if they fail to follow the rules.

Source: Amy Goldstein, "Shift in Housing Aid Proposed: Block Grants Would Replace

Federal Rent Vouchers," Washington Post, April 29, 2003.


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