Expanding Housing Choice Vouchers Would Strengthen the Safety Net

An expanded housing voucher program is needed to address the medium- and long-term economic consequences of COVID-19.

1 minute read

April 16, 2020, 6:00 AM PDT

By Keli_NHI

New York Housing

stockelements / Shutterstock

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown light on the fragility of millions of American families for whom a missed paycheck forces a decision between paying rent and buying food. An eviction moratorium will help temporarily but will not solve the long-term housing problems associated with COVID-19. Temporary rent subsidies, similarly, would help only for a short time. The economic disruption of COVID-19 cannot be reversed overnight; there will likely be high levels of unemployment for some time – at least months and potentially years. Even after people get back to work, low wages compared with rents will likely persist. This is what happened during the Great Recession; incomes fell faster than rents, leading to larger numbers of people with severe housing cost burdens. Rents generally cannot fall to the level needed to allow the lowest-income people to afford them. Landlords need enough rent to cover their mortgages and keep the housing in adequate condition.

Already before COVID-19, the affordability crisis was starting to get more attention. Some presidential candidates had proposals for expanding the Housing Choice Voucher program, which helps pay the rent in private market housing, including housing that a family may already occupy. Others have proposed rent subsidies that would operate through the tax system.

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