By Aimee Hendrigan, Senior Program Officer

Sequestration went into effect in March, cutting approximately $85 billion of government spending across the board. The realities of sequestration are now being felt throughout the country as states and municipalities are forced to do more with much less. As predicted, sequestration is already having damaging impacts, particularly on low-income families. The harmful and far-reaching consequences are clearly demonstrated when we look at cuts to housing assistance.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has sounded the alarm about the most immediate sequestration impacts on housing access across the country. This year, sequestration will cut more than $2 billion from HUD’s key housing assistance and community development programs. State and local housing agencies will be forced to cut rental assistance to 140,000 families. Simply put, sequestration is creating the “largest funding shortfall on record for Housing Choice Vouchers.” CBPP observes that these cuts are coming at a time when the number of low-income families that need housing assistance is actually increasing.

How are the cuts playing out at the state level? This spring, the Connecticut National Association Of Housing and Redevelopment Officials and the Connecticut Housing Coalition conducted a survey of Connecticut public housing authorities, requesting data on the impacts of sequestration. Combined with lost vouchers there is a significant reduction in administrative funding, affecting jobs and quality service provision to tenants. The direct and damaging realities reported in Connecticut include:

    • $9,963,137 of Housing Choice Voucher funding lost
    • $6,624,740 in public housing funding lost
    • 862 families will lose access to housing assistance
    • Already long waiting list times will increase by 2-5 years
    • Many families will have to pay higher rents
    • Tenant programs, capital projects and employee training in various locations will be cut or eliminated

Perhaps more ominous is that sequestration is not a one-time event; there are a total of $1.2 trillion in cuts planned over the next nine years. The same vulnerable families that are threatened by changes to housing assistance will be disproportionately impacted by sequestration’s compounding cuts to early education, child care, unemployment benefits, and a wide array of social services. The disparate nature of sequestration could well be a “death by a thousand cuts” to the social safety net. To prevent this, the wide range of sequestration’s consequences on low-income families must be documented and shared widely with the public and with lawmakers. It is especially critical to demonstrate that multiple impacts on the most vulnerable families will have long-reaching effects on their stability and on their children’s health and education.

As often happens in times of crisis, philanthropy will be called on to fill the gaps that sequestration creates as more families become homeless and services are slashed. Funders should also take a longer view, beyond funding deficits, and support data collection and advocacy that illustrates the impacts of sequestration. The Melville Trust supports the work of CBPP and the Connecticut Housing Coalition and has begun collaborating with funder colleagues at Funders Together to End Homelessness around strategies for highlighting sequestration’s impacts at the local and national levels. It is clear that continued cuts to services for the most vulnerable will have dire long-term consequences. We need to act now, before sequestration becomes accepted practice.

How are the impacts of sequestration being felt in your community? And just as importantly, how are the impacts being measured? What are the best ways to communicate the human and financial costs of sequestration? What groups are doing this most effectively?

July 17, 2013 Update: Please see Moyers and Company’s website for a map of sequester’s impact on low-income housing.

4 Comments

  • Anne Mitchell July 19, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Are there best practice models available for keeping track of the impacts of sequestration?

  • Aimee Hendrigan July 19, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    That’s a great question Anne – I’ve put it to some experts on my end. Many funders and providers are coming together at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference in D.C. early next week. I know it will be a topic of conversation. Will try to report back!

  • Richard Walega August 10, 2013 at 6:44 pm

    There is not much hope for adequate funding as long as the wing nuts control the House. What’s needed is a concentrated effort to identify alternative funding mechanisms. Several years ago Barney Frank was successful in getting the Affordable Housing Trust funded through the profits of Freddie and Fannie: unfortunately they were both hemorrhaging at exactly the moment the law was passed. This AFT ought to be resurrected and profit sharing should be activate as soon as the federal loans area paid back. HUD should take a lead role in this effort but I am afraid it won’t as it lacks creative leadership at the ossified upper levels. Rather, Justice and Treasury should be working actively to place “too big to fail” banks into the funding stream either through direct loans/grants of via profit sharing with the AFT. There’s precedent for bank profit sharing: the FHLB does more good for affordable housing each year than most of the big banks who run fancy TV ads. In short, let’s not allow the wing nuts to dominate the funding crisis. Let’s push the Executive Branch to make the case and write the rules.

  • Joelle Wyser-Pratte December 17, 2013 at 12:14 am

    This is the reality. We’ll never know that the impact is already big which is hard to avoid..

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