Saturday, November 26, 2016

Chicago Housing Authority Proposes Test Program That Would Cut Off Housing Vouchers To Limited Number Of Poor Tenants After Eight Years, Awaits HUD Approval

In Chicago, Illinois, Crain's Chicago Business reports:
  • The Chicago Housing Authority is preparing to roll out a pilot program that would cut off housing vouchers for some people after eight years, an attempt to nudge more recipients into the workforce and shrink the long waiting list for rental assistance.

    The CHA has asked the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to approve its plan, which would impose the time limit on 100 families, a fraction of the 46,000 Chicago voucher holders today. The program also would include training and other services to prepare them for the job market.

    Though it's small, the initiative rekindles the long-running debate over the purpose of welfare programs, with conservatives saying they should provide a temporary safety net and steps to self-sufficiency and liberals saying that things like time limits don't take into account the difficult circumstances many recipients face. The proposal also comes at a time when federal housing policy is expected to take a more conservative turn as Donald Trump becomes president and changes HUD leaders.

    The CHA's goal is to determine if time limits can help voucher holders "more easily and quickly move up the economic ladder so they are no longer in need of" the subsidy, according to a statement. That could free up more vouchers for nearly 43,000 people on CHA's voucher waiting list.

    It's not an original idea. A 1996 federal welfare reform law cut off cash assistance payments to recipients after five years. Housing agencies in several other cities have established time limits and work requirements for voucher holders, with mixed results. In 2008, the CHA proposed a time limit for residents in its buildings but dropped the idea amid opposition from housing advocates.

    Under the voucher program, formerly known as Section 8, poor people can use vouchers to pay for privately owned apartments. They must pay 30 percent of their income, if they have any, for rent and utilities, with the voucher covering the rest. The program is funded by the federal government but run by the CHA.

    Critics say vouchers without time limits, job training or work requirements create a culture of dependency. Without incentives to find a job and become economically self-sufficient, many recipients live off vouchers for years while others in need languish on the waiting list, they say.
    Though many public housing authorities require able-bodied voucher recipients to work, the CHA does not. But people age 18 to 54 who live in CHA-owned or -supported public housing must work up to 30 hours a week.

    Several public housing authorities around the country have established voucher time limits. But it's hard to draw firm conclusions about how they're working because there's not much data to analyze, says Jill Khadduri, a former HUD official and now senior fellow and principal associate at Abt Associates, a research firm.
    The CHA hopes HUD will OK its time limit proposal in early 2017. It lets people who fail to get off vouchers after eight years apply for a two-year extension.

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