The face of public housing could change under a measure included in President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget proposal.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the proposal would essentially reverse decades of allowing people who receive government rent vouchers or federally subsidized housing by expanding a 1996 program designed to help benefit recipients become financially independent. Currently, government housing benefits are generally open ended. Unlike welfare—which has a five-year limit—federal housing programs allow low-income Americans to receive rent vouchers or live in government complexes for decades.

Under the current program, only 39 out of 3,200 public housing authorities have incentives in place to promote work and independence. But housing agencies are pushing for the expansion, saying that the current system does not motivate recipients to become self-sufficient and is not fair to thousands of eligible people who have to wait years for assistance, according to the Journal.

“We’ve got these waiting lists that in some cases you practically get through a generation before you get a shot at a unit,” Tony Perez, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee, told the newspaper, adding, “If you want to change this, you have to change the way you go about business.”

Many states have already implemented time limits and other requirements recipients must meet in order to receive housing benefits:

In Tacoma, Wash., the housing authority in March started limiting new recipients to five-year terms. San Mateo, Calif., San Antonio and the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation plan their own versions of time limits within the next year. The restrictions are applying most commonly to rent vouchers, but also in some cases to public housing. The disabled and elderly are exempt.

“We provide these very valuable housing vouchers—deep, potentially permanent subsidies—to a group of very fortunate families and then we have thousands of people with their noses pressed up against the window desperately needing housing and getting nothing from us,” “says Michael Mirra, executive director of the Tacoma Housing Authority. As of March, the average length of stay for nondisabled, nonelderly voucher recipients at the housing authority was nearly eight years.

Other housing authorities are instituting rules requiring residents to get a job. The Housing Authority of Champaign County, Ill. in January began mandating that new residents between ages 18 and 54 must work 20 hours per week. For existing residents, the mandate is being phased in.

“Some people need a real push,’ said Patty Smith, an official at the Champaign County authority.

Not everyone believes that Obama’s proposal is the best solution.

Linda Couch of the National Low Income Housing Coalition told the Journal, “You are just cycling these families back to the end of these waiting lists. The answer is more affordable housing; it’s not moving the deck chairs on the Titanic.”


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