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As the COVID-19 crisis enters its third month and unemployment and other signs of economic instability continue to surge, new polling shows that a majority of voters from both political parties support expanding the federal Housing Choice Voucher program in order to help people maintain their current housing or find places to live amid the pandemic.
The new findings were published Friday in The Appeal, an editorially independent project of The Justice Collaborative Institute, in a commentary piece written by Kirk McClure, professor of urban planning at Kansas University’s School of Public Affairs and Administration, and Alex Schwartz, professor of Urban Policy at The New School. The polling, conducted by Data for Progress, found that 61 percent of likely voters, including 58 percent of Republicans, support expanding the Housing Choice Voucher program as a way to help renters cover their housing costs amid the COVID-19 crisis. The research and analysis was published as part of The Appeal’s Discourse series, a collaboration between The Justice Collaborative Institute and Data For Progress.
“Millions of low-income renter households are threatened with eviction and homelessness because of the unemployment generated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The nation already has a readily available tool to correct this problem, the Housing Choice Voucher,” said McClure. “With appropriate funding for this program, the turmoil of the pandemic can be greatly reduced.”
The Housing Choice Voucher program currently serves 2.5 million households, allowing recipients to pay 30 percent of their income on rent, with the federal government covering the rest. But due to rationing and restrictions, only about one-fourth of all eligible households are in the program. And among those recipients, high housing prices and low average incomes often mean that the vouchers are inadequate to cover market-rate rents.
The report comes amid fears that the economic effects of COVID-19 could compound existing issues of housing insecurity and trigger a new wave of homeless and displacement. Even before the pandemic, nearly half of all renters in the U.S. reported spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent, with nearly one-quarter spending 50 percent or more. Among renters who earn up to $30,000 a year, 55 percent reported spending half of their income on rent. This number jumped to 71 percent of all renters who earn up to $15,000.
Congress could help many people maintain their current housing or find new housing by including expanded funding for the Housing Choice Voucher program in the next COVID-19 stimulus package, and by removing restrictions on the newly unemployed, those with criminal records, and families with undocumented members, McClure and Schwartz argue in their piece.
Read their commentary in The Appeal here.