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A helping hand, not a boot

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Miami Herald: A proposal to cut $1 billion from the Section 8 housing-assistance program is the Bush administration's latest tough-love approach to nudge low-income families off federal subsidies and into self-sufficiency.
Families would live in subsidized housing for limited periods. When their stay is up, the thinking goes, they would have the means to secure housing on their own at free-market rates.
This is reasonable and well-intentioned. However, housing officials should ensure that the "nudge" doesn't become a push out the door that leaves poor families without a roof over their heads and with no way to secure a new home. The administration can step up home-ownership and job-training programs to encourage families to pursue a better quality of life.
The Section 8 program gives vouchers to poor families, the disabled and elderly to find housing in privately owned homes and apartment complexes. Vouchers have been an effective tool: They take pressure off crowded, often segregated, public housing and integrate low-income families into neighborhoods where schools and services might be of higher quality.
An imperfect plan
President Bush's proposed 2005 budget would cut $1 billion from Section 8. Though housing agencies would have flexibility to tailor the program to local needs, there would be fewer vouchers available. At the same time, families with higher incomes would be eligible for a shrinking number of housing subsidies. There are no guarantees that the most needy families would get help.
This would be counterproductive. Landlords might reject poorer Section 8 tenants in favor of those with more money. Many communities lack enough affordable housing. HUD has been replacing old, densely packed public-housing projects with mixed-income town homes.
There are few options for low-income families now. Giving their vouchers to families with more income would eliminate yet another option.
The administration is right: Federal subsidies for housing shouldn't be a lifetime entitlement. Several generations of some families have been reared in public housing with little incentive to move toward self-sufficiency.
But it would be wrong to oust families prematurely from subsidized housing.