Most folks around here have not seen much impact from the sequester, but one is simmering. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, a department Senator Paul would like to abolish, has been forced to cut back on low income rental vouchers, popularly called Section 8. They were introduced years ago as a way to create a public-private solution to the problem of adequate housing for very low income persons that would avoid more investment in big public housing projects.
The federal government funded vouchers to pay for rent in private housing, with the funds administered through local housing agencies. Participating landlords had to meet very basic maintenance standards, and agree to rent to anyone with a voucher. The program has worked fairly well, especially here in Walla Walla. Our local housing authority, of which I am a commissioner, manages over 800 units of Section 8 housing.
We are cutting back. As tenants move out, no longer needing vouchers from us, they will not be replaced. No one on the waiting list will get a voucher. The units under management will continue to decline as the funds dry up, unless congress does something to reverse the trend. So what does it mean?
The very low income population of the working poor and disabled will not go away. They have to live somewhere. Some landlords will continue to rent to them by letting their properties deteriorate into slums, taking their neighborhoods down with them. A few will find ways to couch surf with relatives and friends. There will be a move toward legal and illegal single room occupancy flop houses. The homeless population camping out in parks and under bridges will increase. Serious illnesses will increase the burden on our hospitals. Early deaths will weed out the weak. There will be an increase in drug use as the desperate self medicate the pain away. Petty crime will increase. But by golly we will reduce wasteful federal spending and keep our taxes down. Besides, if these people had any gumption they wouldn’t be in such a pickle in the first place. Furthermore, its the job of churches and rescue missions to house the poor. Or maybe we could bring back the work house. It worked well before, and could again.