Hilary Gawrilow, Corporation for Supportive Housing and Caitlin C. Schnur, National Initiatives on Poverty & Economic Opportunity at Heartland Alliance
Affordable rental housing is in short supply and the availability of subsidies to assist extremely low-income renters has not changed in over a decade. Only one out of four eligible households actually receives federal rental assistance. Various policy proposals have been put forth to increase the turnover in the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)’s assisted housing stock, including imposing work requirements and time limits.
Time limits and work requirements for families receiving housing assistance through HUD will undo years of progress and push people back into poverty. Rather than cutting off assistance, efforts would be better spent ensuring that those struggling to find a job and pay rent have access to robust workforce development services through the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) that meet their employment needs and interests Thankfully, ideas such as time limits and work requirements did not find a home in H.R. 3700, the Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act of 2015, when it was passed by the House Financial Services Committee. The bill contains long-awaited improvements to a variety of housing assistance programs that both sides can agree on.
One misconception that is driving the call for time limits and work requirements is that people receiving housing assistance don’t want to work. In reality, two thirds of non-elderly, non-disabled households – which are typically the focus of work requirements – have at least one member who is working or has worked recently.
Data show that families that use voucher assistance for five years or more typically live in high-cost rental markets. The median income of these households was $15,600, which is a full time job at minimum wage. There is simply nowhere in this country where someone working one minimum wage job can afford to rent a family apartment.
At the same time, people experiencing or at-risk for homelessness face a number of barriers to employment in quality jobs that pay a family-sustaining wage. These roadblocks can include lack of access to affordable child care, transportation, appropriate clothing and equipment, and email and phone service to conduct their job search. Many of these would-be workers may have low educational attainment or lack the soft skills needed to succeed on the job. What these jobseekers need is access to workforce development programs that meet their needs and interests and can help them access quality jobs that pay a living wage.
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