‘Universalizing Section 8 would tackle poverty, boost the economy and even stimulate affordable housing production – ultimately benefiting everyone, not just the beneficiaries.’
President Joe Biden’s campaign promise to fully fund federal rent assistance programs so that any eligible U.S. can receive assistance was more than just part of his housing plan. It was also a promise to transform the country by finally ensuring that the fundamental right to housing is included in our social safety net. After the pandemic crystallized the importance of housing, the time has come for bold thinking.
Congress agrees. Therefore, the reconciliation package currently includes a $ 8 billion expansion of the Section 8 program, representing the largest expansion in the program’s history. An extension of that kind should be seen as a down payment when universalizing the program, and it is one that Americans in all societies should welcome.
Here in New York, for example, about 70 percent of very low-income tenants in New York pay more than half of their income in rent in large part because there is a state shortage of more than 600,000 affordable rental housing. But it’s also because Congress has underfunded life – changing federal programs like Section 8 to the point that only 23 percent of eligible households receive assistance from the program. That’s what Universal Section 8 would change – and new research from the New York Housing Conference shows just how powerful this transformation would be both in Empire State and across the country.
In a report with HR & A Advisors, we found that 1.1 million households in New York alone would benefit from rental assistance if it were fully funded. Nationwide, that would mean a 22.5 percent poverty reduction by doubling the remaining income available to a household after housing costs. That would mean an additional $ 7,680 a year to pay for food, medicine, child care, transportation and other necessities.
The new economic freedom would benefit the whole of society. In New York alone, that would catalyze $ 8.5 billion. In extra expenses each year, which would create 96,000 new jobs and a total of 14.7 billion. Dollars in new economic activity overall. In turn, it increases state and local revenue, as the state of New York would generate $ 424 million in additional tax revenue each year – New York City would receive $ 313 million – to address other pressing issues the state faces.
Of the beneficiaries, more than half would be single female households; a third would reach households with children in their care. And an overwhelming amount, about 70 percent, would be black or Latin households, meaning this is a crucial opportunity to address decades of discrimination and racism in America’s housing policy. It will also allow New York City to increase housing production at an affordable price by 33 percent.
Although we only examined the effects for New York, where we are based, similar effects would be seen in each state and locality throughout the country. Universalization of section 8 would address poverty, increase the economy and even stimulate affordable housing production – ultimately benefiting everyone, not just the recipients. It is difficult to imagine a more transformative policy.
Realizing these benefits is not a long-term, idealistic dream. In fact, the opportunity is right in front of us. By simply making another choice – one that recognizes the fundamental importance of a safe and secure home – we have the power to change America for the better. This is an investment in our country that we cannot afford to fail.
Rachel Fee is the CEO of the New York Housing Conference, which commissioned the report with HR & A Advisors.