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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

This is a bad time to cut housing vouchers

The federal rent-subsidy program known as Section 8 was launched in the 1970s to expand the housing options for the needy and prevent homelessness.

However, federal cuts to the program threaten to exacerbate the homeless problem in the Islands, where affordable housing, particularly the stock available to Section 8 recipients, is in short supply.

Not only must recipients find affordable housing, but also that rare landlord who will rent to them and meet the program's requirements.

As it stands, the program enables families living at or below the poverty line to rent on the private market and pay 30 to 40 percent of their incomes toward the rent while the vouchers cover the remainder.

Each year, the federal government reimburses the state based on the total amount of vouchers issued in the Islands.

But under the new rules, states will only be reimbursed for the vouchers actually used, and that spells trouble for Hawai'i because Section 8 recipients here are having a tough time finding housing. About 2,000 vouchers were not used last year.

Hawai'i will also receive $800,000 less in reimbursements than last year. And to make up for the difference, the state is faced with the unenviable task of reducing the overall amount of rent subsidies or cutting some users off entirely.

As it is, there are some 20,000 residents on the housing voucher waiting list.

Moreover, the federal government has capped how much it will reimburse the state, which, of course, does not allow for increasing rents.

Cutting housing subsidies for the needy as housing and rent costs skyrocket simply makes no sense. Studies show that nationally the average rent on a two-bedroom apartment has risen by 37 percent since 1999.

And common sense dictates that nickel-and-diming programs aimed at helping the poor will cost us more in the long run when we are forced to pay for services for those who lose their benefits and are left to fend for themselves.