We hear the words "family values" a lot from
politicians, particularly during election season.
Conservatives often use this term to define a nuclear
family consisting of a mother, father and kids, living
in a home suitable for raising children. The truth is
that a growing number of working families, including
many that fit this model, need help from the
government to pay for decent, affordable housing. But
the Bush administration is not holding up its end of
the bargain to promote its definition of "family
values," and low-income families are paying the price.
A change recently made by the administration -- if not addressed -- will
force New York City to face a shortfall of at least
$55.5 million in federal housing subsidies this year.
But beyond the numbers, there is a human face to the
administration's catastrophic decision -- the
low-income families who need and depend on Section 8
Housing vouchers to help them pay for their homes.
This program is supposed to help low-income families
find and pay for housing. The family pays no more than
30 percent of its income for rent, and the government
makes up the difference between that amount and what
the landlord charges.
In April, the Department of Housing and Urban
Development issued a notice that it would alter the
Section 8 Housing voucher funding formula by basing it
on August 2003 housing costs instead of relying on the
actual current costs of housing. Failing to fund the
vouchers to keep up with current costs is disastrous
for cities like New York, where housing and utility
prices have increased and tenant incomes have not kept
up with inflation.
Unless the administration's decision is reversed, it
will create a dramatic funding shortfall that will
force the New York City Housing Authority to either
increase the percentage of their incomes that families
must spend on rent or to reduce the number of families
assisted by Section 8 vouchers. Either choice could
force some families out of their homes. Since the
government already does not provide vouchers to all
the families that need them, the administration's
change will only make an already difficult situation
This change in policy is being implemented despite the
success of the Section 8 Housing voucher program,
which was created to ensure that a continuous supply
of affordable housing would be available to low-income
families. Only 15 percent of people receiving Section
8 vouchers live in high poverty areas, as compared to
approximately 54 percent of public housing residents.
Indeed, Section 8 vouchers have effectively addressed
one of the most serious shortcomings of traditional,
project-based housing -- the concentration of
low-income housing in poor neighborhoods.
Despite the fact that the Section 8 Housing voucher
program has a proven track record of helping
low-income families, federal funding of the vouchers
has been in sharp decline. In fiscal year 2001,
79,000 new vouchers were funded. In fiscal year 2002,
the number dropped to 18,000, and Fiscal Year 2003 no
new vouchers at all were funded.
New York City voucher recipients have been the primary
victims of this rampant disregard of the voucher
program. When the Bush administration changed the
Section 8 voucher funding formula, more than 130,000
families were on the city housing authority's Section
8 waiting list -- an eight-year wait. Of these
families, more than 24,000 are 62 years of age or
Tired of seeing families who rely on these vouchers
suffer, I successfully added $150 million last year to
the Section 8 program for fiscal year 2004, which
translates into approximately 22,000 new vouchers
based on current costs. My legislation to increase
the number of housing vouchers was approved by a
majority of Congress, and it seemed that efforts to
derail the program were temporarily defeated. Yet the
Bush administration forged ahead with its decision to
change the funding formula.
To urge the administration to reverse its harmful
change in Section 8 funding, I wrote to Housing and
Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson. In my
letter, I reminded him that it is HUD's responsibility
to honor the commitment made to the people who receive
Section 8 vouchers and who rely on them in order to
remain in their homes. It is imperative that we
preserve the stability of families in the Section 8
program and safeguard the integrity of the
governmental promise made to them.
administration continues to implement policies that
hurt working families. By failing to fund fully the
Section 8 housing voucher program, low-income families
may be forced out of their homes. It is time for the
president and the Republicans in Congress to realize
that family values go well beyond Republican ideals of
church and marriage, and that creating policies that
harm low-income families is mean-spirited. Low-income
housing options are essential for families that want
and deserve to provide a safe environment for their
children to live and grow.
Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, is the U.S. representative
from Eighth Congressional District in Manhattan and
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