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HUD report shows housing programs serve those with the lowest incomes

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A recent HUD report shows that even though HUD programs reach a fraction of those who qualify, tenants in HUD-assisted housing are among the poorest and most vulnerable in our nation.

HUD’s report, Characteristics of HUD-Assisted Renters and Their Units in 2017, is the tenth report in this series since 1989, and allows HUD to track changes in where assisted housing is located and who is living there. In 2017, HUD provided rental subsidies to 4,540,000 households. The assistance was provided under several programs, with the total cost more than $38 billion.

The report breaks down HUD housing programs into three broad types: Public Housing, privately owned multifamily programs, and Section 8 vouchers.

Public Housing properties are owned and operated by HUD Public Housing Agencies (PHAs). It is a project-based program attached to the unit. This means that the rental subsidy does not transfer with the tenant if they move. HUD provides an operating subsidy and access to funds for long-term capital improvements like new roofs or boilers.

Programs offered by privately owned multifamily properties are also project based, but are owned by private companies and nonprofit organizations. The Project-Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) program represents most (87%) of these properties, but this category “includes projects created under a collection of programs created during the past four decades,” according to the report.

The vouchers category includes both Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) and Section 8 Project-Based Vouchers (PBVs). Operated by PHAs, the HCV program allows tenants to rent apartments from private landlords. This subsidy is tenant-based, which means that the rental assistance goes with them when tenants move to another apartment. The PBV program is a project-based program similar to Public Housing, but uses funds from the Section 8 program.

The number of assisted housing units has increased by only 12% over the last 26 years, while the number of families with Very Low Incomes grew by 16% in that time.

The number of assisted housing units has increased by only 12% over the last 26 years, while the number of families with Very Low Incomes (VLI) grew by 16% in that time. VLI households have incomes that are 50% or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). Most HUD housing assistance is targeted to households at this income level.

Over time, federal affordable housing funding has shifted from project-based assistance to tenant-based assistance. Voucher participants grew from 26% of assisted households in 1989 to 48% in 2017. The Public Housing share of HUD funding fell during this time, from 33% of assisted units in 1989 to 21% in 2017. Privately owned multifamily housing also declined, decreasing from 41% to 31% of assisted units in 2017.

HUD’s report shows that its housing programs are serving households with the lowest incomes. In 2017, the median income for all VLI households was $16,000, but it was much lower for tenants receiving HUD assistance. Public Housing residents had a median income of $10,800. Residents of privately owned multifamily units had a median income of $11,160. Voucher households had a median income of $12,500. Only 41.8% of HUD-assisted renters had wage or salary income in 2017.

Seniors and persons with disabilities made up the largest share of HUD-assisted renters in 2017. Seniors were 27.5% of HUD-assisted renters, and 43.6% were persons with disabilities.

Black and white tenants were the largest portion of those receiving HUD housing assistance.

Black and white tenants were the largest portion of those receiving HUD housing assistance. In 2017, 46.3% of HUD-assisted renters were white, and were 62.7% of all VLI renters. 45.5% of renters were black, while they made up only 27.9% of all VLI renters. 

The remaining 8.1% of assisted households were grouped in a broad category of “other races,” but 18.4% of tenants of all races also identified as Hispanic. Hispanic renters were a smaller share of HUD-assisted renters than among all VLI renters. Among HUD-assisted renters, 18.4% were Hispanic, but Hispanic renters were 22.6% of all VLI renters.

HUD-assisted households also relied on public assistance more than VLI households overall. This includes benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), or Social Security Income (SSI) programs. Part of the reason for this is the high number of seniors and persons with disabilities in HUD-assisted units. They are more likely to use SNAP and SSI to cover their basic needs.

The South and the Northeast regions have the largest shares of HUD-assisted units. The South had 33% of HUD-assisted units, while the Northeast had 28%. The Northeast had a larger proportion of public housing units, while the Western region had a higher proportion of vouchers. HUD-assisted housing is also predominantly in urban centers and less present in rural areas.

The quality of HUD-assisted housing is slightly better than the overall stock affordable to VLI households. The American Housing Survey (AHS) found only a small percentage of rental units in the country were severely inadequate. This means that the unit’s problems pose basic health and safety dangers. While 2.9% of all VLI units were severely inadequate, only 2.3% of HUD-assisted units were in such bad shape.

The report found that 40% of HUD-assisted renters had an excessive rent burden.

Although renters in HUD-assisted housing typically have their rent set at 30% of their income because of their housing assistance, many were paying more than this. Paying more than 40% of your income is excessive rent burden, according to HUD. The report found that 40% of HUD-assisted renters had an excessive rent burden. Although this seems high, 63% of VLI renters without housing assistance had an excessive rent burden.

HUD points out that some PHAs have adopted minimum rents that may increase some tenants’ rent burden. Also, tenants in the voucher program are allowed to rent more expensive units if they cover the additional cost themselves.

According to the report, HUD-assisted tenants are mostly satisfied with their apartments and their neighborhoods. A higher percentage of tenants in HUD-assisted housing gave their units the highest ratings than unassisted VLI households and all renters. When recent movers were asked to compare their new apartment and neighborhood to their old one, those moving into HUD-assisted housing were more likely to rate it as better than their old one.

Congress has never appropriated enough money to provide rental assistance to all the households who qualify. This report shows the funds available are at least serving the most vulnerable people with the greatest needs.