Congressional Republicans’ plan to make draconian cuts to social spending in a bid to avoid defaulting on the national debt could eliminate federally funded rent vouchers for over a third of the 2.3 million U.S. households that rely on them for housing. 

That includes an estimated 21,000 Georgia families among 800,000 nationally at risk of losing their rent subsidies. In Georgia, 54,989 households—including 17,684 in Atlanta—depend on the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Housing Choice Voucher Program to stay housed, according to federal data.

The House Appropriations Committee’s latest proposed budget bills could cut “at least 30% across programs including education, research, public safety, public health, and other areas,” including HUD’s rent voucher program, the White House said in a May 23 press release.

The White House warned that the proposed Republican appropriations bills—which Democratic Congress members have derided as the “Default on America Act”—also could eliminate emergency housing voucher funding, harming another 1,390 Georgians who are homeless, at risk of homelessness, or escaping from domestic violence.

Housing funding already scarce

There already aren’t enough Section 8 vouchers to meet low-income Georgian’s need for housing, and the state’s housing agencies can’t afford to absorb such a financial blow, HUD and local housing advocates told Atlanta Civic Circle, amid a dire affordability crisis that’s getting worse.

There are almost 25,000 Atlantans on the waitlist for Section 8 vouchers from Atlanta Housing, the city’s public housing authority—and even people who’ve obtained rent vouchers often still can’t find landlords who will accept them. (Voucher recipients pay up to a third of their monthly income on rent, and the HUD subsidies cover the rest.)

The situation is the same in other big cities. “In many parts of the country, long wait lists for rental assistance create barriers for people seeking federally assisted housing,” said HUD spokesperson Shannon Watkins in a statement to Atlanta Civic Circle. “This is the result of insufficient appropriations to fund rental assistance for every family with acute housing needs.”

Bambie Hayes-Brown, the CEO of Georgia Advancing Communities Together, a coalition of over 100 affordable housing and community development agencies, said the proposed cuts to housing funding would be devastating to lower-income Georgians.

“Wages have remained stagnant and have not grown at the percentage that rents have, and when we see, for our proposed budget, cuts for the Housing Choice Voucher Program, that is very concerning,” she said, urging people to contact their congressional representatives “to let them know we want our most vulnerable populations to be stably housed.”

Hayes-Brown said the proposed cuts would place enormous strain on the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, Atlanta Housing, and the state’s other public housing authorities that support housing for senior citizens, military veterans, families, and “all the people we say we care about.” 

The National Low Income Housing Coalition also issued a call to action this week for Americans to call their congresspeople and urge that any agreement to lift the debt ceiling “protects and expands resources to help people with the lowest incomes find a safe, stable, accessible, and affordable place to call home.”

“Terrible,” was Housing Justice League executive director Alison Johnson’s response to the proposed federal budget cuts. The group is calling on Georgia’s U.S. representatives and Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to “push Congress not to cut those housing safety programs,” she said. “We will protest our senators if they don’t take a stand. Georgia can’t afford these cuts,” she said. 

Housing Justice League and other advocacy groups are planning protests to advocate for boosting, not cutting, housing safety net programs.

Cutting the emergency housing vouchers for homeless people “would be devastating,” because the program is already underfunded, said Cathryn Vassell, who heads Partners for Home, Atlanta’s homeless services arm. “We need more funding and subsidy to be able to rehouse people experiencing homelessness at the pace and scale that is necessary,” she said.

But Atlanta Housing CEO Eugene Jones, who’s also run the Chicago and Toronto public housing authorities, said it’s too soon to panic about any proposed housing funding cuts. “It is premature to speculate what might happen, if anything at all,” he said in an email.

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