The Black Commentator: Targeting Section 8

Targeting Section 8

The Black Commentator

May 1, 2003

With even more fervor than when they first swarmed into Washington following Ronald Reagan’s election in 1980, the Hard Right’s wrecking crews are dismantling every social support system that smells even faintly of an “entitlement” to the undeserving poor. They pick through the ruins searching for something unbroken to smash. Section 8, the federal housing voucher program that buttresses much of urban America’s physical and social architecture, is to be thrown to the states as block grants. Even some southern Republicans are upset.

“We believe that such a proposal could seriously undermine the voucher program and could potentially harm the millions of low-income people assisted with housing vouchers,” wrote 42 Senators to Housing and Urban Development Secretary Mel R. Martinez. Virginia Republicans John Warner and George Allen initiated the letter, but then decided not to send it until they’ve seen the administration’s full plan, according to the April 29 Washington Post.

[A] few outside conservatives have persuaded the White House that Section 8 is out of sync with other social policies for the poor. Howard Husock, a researcher at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government who is affiliated with the conservative Manhattan Institute, called it the “last redoubt of non-time-limited public assistance.”

Michael Liu, HUD’s assistant secretary for public and Indian housing, said the proposal would not compel states to adopt the main features of the revamped welfare system – time limits and requirements that poor parents get a job – although states could create such rules if they chose.

Liberals say the analogy of housing aid to welfare is misguided. They note that recent HUD figures show that just 13 percent of the households with Section 8 vouchers depend on welfare, while 35 percent get most of their income from jobs and the largest group relies on disability or retirement benefits. “The notion there is this group of people they have to force off of assistance into the workforce is erroneous,” said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “These are people who have income, but it’s insufficient to be able to afford housing in America.”

Clearly, the Hard Right would turn Section 8 into a kind of time-limited, “workfare”-type housing program, and then destroy it, entirely.