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Background on Housing

On any given night, there are 610,000 people experiencing homelessness, with around 4 million people experiencing homelessness over the course of a year. While our economy is still recovering from the recession, homelessness is again on the rise in 23 states. Families experiencing homelessness is one of the largest growing segments of the homeless population. In the 2013 Hunger and Homelessness Survey of the American Conference of Mayors, only 7 out of 25 cities surveyed did not report an increase in family homelessness in 2013.

Inherently connected to the problem of homelessness is the availability of safe and affordable housing. Lack of affordable housing is consistently ranked the most common cause of homelessness. According to the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, a worker must make $18.79 per hour to afford a modest two-bedroom rental unit – nearly twice the federal minimum wage. While we had a surplus of affordable housing in 1970, we now have a deficit of 5.5 million units according to the Institute for Children, Poverty & Homelessness. Federal programs that assist low-income people in finding suitable housing are insufficient to meet the demand.

The National Housing Trust Fund was created in 2008 to seek to close this gap, but lacks a viable source of funding. Please urge your Members of Congress to establish a dedicated source of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.


Homelessness and Housing -- Current Status 

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides several services for those seeking affordable housing. The issue of housing is also affected by other federal government policies.

Housing Assistance
The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides several services for those seeking affordable housing. For example, Section 8 housing vouchers provide low-income families with rental subsidies that pay the cost of their rent exceeding 30 percent of their income; Section 202 vouchers provide supportive housing for the elderly; and Section 811 vouchers provide rental assistance to the disabled. HUD also runs special initiatives such as the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA) program. HOPWA is aimed at housing people with HIV/AIDS, whose overwhelming medical expenses often create difficulties in funding adequate, affordable housing.

Since the passage of the McKinney Homeless Assistance Act in 1987 HUD has funded programs specifically targeted to address homelessness. HUD currently provides funds for permanent and supportive housing, shelters, transitional housing and services. Based on a "continuum of care" approach, the programs seek to smoothly guide individuals from life on the streets to stable housing arrangements. The federal government also funds Health Care for the Homeless, the only federally funded program designed specifically to meet the complex health care needs of people without homes. Health Care for the Homeless projects all over the country offer an integrated, community-based approach to make sure people without homes receive the health care services they need.

Unfortunately, these programs are all funded in the discretionary budget and only get a certain amount of money each year. This is in contrast to mandatory spending programs, like SNAP or Medicare, which give benefits to all eligible applicants. As a result, these effective housing programs have long waiting lists and only meet a small portion of Americans’ needs.

National Housing Trust Fund
After almost a decade of advocacy by the Religious Action Center and other organizations, The National Housing Trust Fund was established as a part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008. The Fund was intended to serve as a source of revenue for the production of new affordable housing, and the preservation or rehabilitation of existing affordable housing. As it states in the law:

  • It is a permanent program, and will have dedicated source of funding not subject to the annual appropriations process.
  • At least 90% of the funds must be used for the production, preservation, rehabilitation, or operation of rental housing. Up to 10% can be used for the following homeownership activities for first-time homebuyers: production, preservation, and rehabilitation; down payment assistance, closing cost assistance, and assistance for interest rate buy-downs.
  • At least 75% of the funds for rental housing must benefit extremely low income households and all funds must benefit very low income households.

Both the Union for Reform Judaism and CCAR endorsed the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act.

However, when established the National Housing Trust Fund was to be provided with funding from government-backed mortgage companies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Unfortunately, these agencies no longer have sufficient funds to contribute to the Trust Fund, and without a dedicated source of funding, the Trust Fund remains unutilized. Please urge your Members of Congress to establish another dedicated source of funding for the National Housing Trust Fund.

The Amelioration of Poverty
In addition to legislation pertaining to housing assistance, many bills that do not immediately seem relevant to homelessness and housing can aid families in becoming self-sufficient and help ensure that these families can avoid becoming homeless. As a result, it is very important to examine related issues and legislation including SNAP, the minimum wage and children’s policy, which help alleviate poverty in general, thereby decreasing homelessness and hunger.

Minimum Wage
Currently there is a broad and growing disparity between income and housing costs. The national housing wage is what a household needs to make per hour to afford a modest two bedroom apartment without paying more than 30% of their income on housing. Right now the national housing wage is $18.79 per hour, but the federal minimum wage is only $7.25 per hour. Nationwide, the housing wage is more than twice the Federal or State minimum wage, leaving millions of working Americans financially unable to keep a roof over their head.

In recent years, there have been continued efforts to raise the minimum wage. The minimum wage has not been increased since 2009. The RAC is currently part of the coalition fighting for a $15 minimum wage. For more information about the minimum wage, please visit the RAC's Minimum Wage issue page.