With more low-income renters shouldering unaffordable housing costs than ever before, many areas of the country have long lines for housing vouchers. Funders have an important role as we try to restore the vouchers we lost to sequestration and build public-private partnerships to help those in need.
For many women, Mother’s Day is marked by traditions like breakfast in bed, a bouquet of flowers, maybe brunch with the family. But for other moms, it’s just another day struggling to get by. Many of them — because they are unemployed, stuck in low-wage jobs or victims of domestic violence — are simply trying to keep a roof over their head.
This year, because of the across the board federal budget cuts known as sequestration, thousands of families will also be cut off from vital, proven supports like Housing Choice Vouchers.
Housing vouchers help 1 million mothers keep a roof over their family’s heads by covering part of the cost of modest private rental housing. In fact, nine in ten households with children receiving vouchers are headed by women. But even more need them: only about one in four families eligible for a voucher gets any form of federal rental assistance.
Funders know that housing-based solutions can end homelessness, and so many have worked to develop public-private partnerships to ensure access to long-term housing. Funders bring more flexible dollars to the table and government offers larger and more sustainable investments. Because of sequestration, many successful public-private partnerships are unraveling:
- For example, the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce launched the Home for Good Funders Collaborative to coordinate resources and invest in proven, cost-effective solutions to homelessness. They brought together more than 20 funders, city and county agencies, local public housing authorities of both the City and County of Los Angeles – and more than $100 million in combined resources. The public housing authorities committed more than 600 Housing Choice Vouchers to house the most vulnerable. (These vouchers pay the difference between modest rents and what families can afford.) County agencies and private funders committed more than $3 million a year for the support services needed to coax wary people off the streets, get them into apartments, and help people with long histories of homelessness be successful as tenants and neighbors.
- In the Phoenix area, the Valley of the Sun United Way has partnered with local public housing authorities to link private funding with housing vouchers, producing nearly 700 units of housing for homeless families, veterans, and people with disabilities.
- In Texas, the Houston Housing Authority committed 1,000 vouchers as part of a local public-private partnership to fund solutions to homelessness.
- In King County, Washington, the Committee to End Homelessness has linked private funding with public resources from Washington state, local governments, and housing authorities to achieve greater impact. By working together, King County has created more than 5,000 deeply subsidized units of housing since 2005 and vouchers are helping to quickly return hundreds of homeless families to stable housing.
These collaborative funding arrangements and powerful partnerships were put on hold as the housing authorities that had committed vouchers to house the most vulnerable were warned by federal officials to stop issuing new vouchers. If program participants couldn’t find a place to live quickly, offers of housing vouchers were withdrawn. Staff was forced to tell homeless people that housing vouchers were unavailable indefinitely.
Now at least 40,000 fewer families nationwide are receiving housing voucher assistance compared to a year ago. Continued funding cuts will affect not only those who are homeless, but also many more families at risk of homelessness, including survivors of domestic violence, seniors, people with disabilities, and working families that cannot afford rising rents.
Private funders are working to mitigate the most harmful cuts in the short term, but we cannot make real progress toward solving homelessness when government cuts its support.
Let us be very clear: private philanthropy cannot fill government’s role. In fact, officials estimate that millions of dollars in cuts to voucher and other federal programs to address homelessness have largely offset the contributions from private funders, stalling progress at a time when help is most needed. We need both philanthropy and government, working together, to truly end and prevent homelessness.
Even though Congress boosted funding for Housing Choice Vouchers this year, agencies will be able to restore less than half of the vouchers lost due to the earlier cuts. And the extra money did nothing to reduce the long waiting lists for assistance that existed even before sequestration.
It is critical that lawmakers reverse all of the cuts to housing vouchers. Otherwise, the drop in the number of people helped could be locked in, permanently reducing the amount of affordable housing available to low-income families.
Philanthropy is committed to working with government agencies to match public funding with private investment, and to target these resources on solutions that deliver results. We ask Congress to give us the chance.
What Can You Do As a Funder?
- Bring public attention to the need for adequate funding for housing vouchers
- Continue to invest in and prioritize evidence-based programs
- Invest in systems that can prevent and end homelessness
- Share how sequestration is impacting your work on the Funders Together blog
- Talk to your representatives about the impact of sequestration in your community
- Find out more about the Housing Choice Voucher Program in your state.
As Executive Director of Funders Together, Anne brings years of expertise in both the corporate and not-for-profit sector. She is passionate about promoting the philanthropic community’s catalytic role in ending homelessness, working with government to create public-private partnerships, and advocating for funding and policies which end, rather than manage, homelessness. Find her at @FTEHAM.
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