Congress is once again debating ways to avert a government shutdown and will take the country to the brink again around Dec. 11, when federal funding runs out. While the short-term continuing resolution to keep the federal government funded through Dec. 11 was needed, the return of the spending caps established by the 2011 Budget Control Act remains unaddressed. We hope Congress changes that by Dec. 11.
Nowhere are the effects of the spending caps more apparent than with the HOME program. The Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (THUD) spending bill recently passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee cuts HOME by 93 percent, effectively eliminating it. Since the program's inception, HOME has resulted in over $1 billion of federal investment in Florida, which has significantly contributed to our economy through the construction of 55,089 units of affordable housing. Gutting the HOME program would be a severe blow to Florida's economy and the families across our state who are in desperate need affordable housing.
While the proposed cut to HOME in the Senate spending bill is devastating, the THUD bill passed by the House of Representatives to cut HOME and fill the gap by emptying the National Housing Trust Fund (NHTF) is equally unacceptable. The NHTF is a wholly separate, non-discretionary program designed to build, preserve and rehabilitate affordable housing for extremely low-income households. There are currently only 23 affordable and available rental units for every 100 extremely low-income families in Florida. Gratuitously, the House bill includes a provision that would effectively prevent the NHTF from ever receiving funding again.
The House bill also underfunds the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program. As a result, the White House estimates there will be insufficient funding to renew 1,300 vouchers currently used by Florida families in homes rented from Florida's private landlords.
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These families are at risk of becoming homeless. Florida currently has the third highest homeless population in the country. We cannot afford to exacerbate this crisis.
It is a similar story for the nearly 34,000 Florida families who reside in public housing. In fiscal year 2014, Florida received $47,222,000 less for public housing than in 2010. The spending caps will only serve to worsen this situation in fiscal year 2016. The average household annual income for public housing residents in Florida is $11,933, clearly a very vulnerable population who can't begin to compete for housing in the private marketplace. Fully 36 percent of Florida's public housing families are headed by seniors on fixed incomes. We cannot afford to let the federal housing safety net, threadbare as it may be, fail the families currently assisted by this critical program.
The cuts being made to federal housing programs under the constraints of the budget caps are unacceptable and unnecessary. Passing a full year continuing resolution would fail to address this issue, as it would impose the same devastating spending caps.
Florida's congressional delegation must work toward a bipartisan budget deal that raises the spending caps and allows adequate funding for these critical housing programs, which are preventing thousands of Florida's most vulnerable residents from falling into homelessness.
Jaimie Ross, president/CEO of the Florida Housing Coalition, can be written at 1367 E. Lafayette St., Ste. C, Tallahassee. FL 32301 or called at 850-878-4219.