President’s budget proposal ‘a first step’ in aiding homeless families

President Obama is looking to house more homeless families over the next 10 years by providing them with more housing vouchers and short-term assistance, if his budget is approved by Congress.

His budget calls for $11 billion more in spending to support these programs, which Megan Hustings, interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, calls a step in the right direction.

“In recent years a lot of the attention has been focused on housing single adults, and what we’ve been seeing is that the number homeless families has been shooting up here in D.C.,” Hustings said. “There’s been so many families in short-stay hotels and a lot of municipalities have to flip the bill for this and it’s a lot of money spent.”

Hustings said the President’s solution, however, falls short of getting to the root of the issue, which she defined as being a lack of affordable housing, especially in large, metropolitan areas like D.C.

“Housing vouchers are a huge part of it, but a lot of vouchers have a cap to cover a certain percentage of rent – it’s hard to find a two-family bedroom that’s less than $15,000…there’s really no housing that fits the confines of vouchers given out,” she said.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the federal agency that provides housing for low-income Americans, has also experienced a dramatic decrease in funding since the Reagan Administration, according to Hustings and Mark Alston Follansbee, executive director of the Somerville Homeless Coalition in Massachusetts.

“If you look at what [members of Congress] have done historically to housing, they have been chipping away at [the HUD budget] for years,” Follansbee said.

He calls the President’s proposal “a Band-Aid” rather than a solution to the problem.

“It’s a miracle that more people are not homeless. I don’t know how so many people are getting by with so little,” he said.

Massachusetts is among several states where more than half of its homeless population consists of families, according to HUD, which found similar trends in New York, California, Texas and Florida.

Kelly Turley, director of legal advocacy for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless, said homeless families can benefit from more help from the federal government.

“We know that targeted homelessness prevention is really critical in providing long-term housing assistance,” she said. “It is critical to get the federal government engaged by bringing more resources to the table such as section 8 housing choice vouchers.”

Hustings agrees but hopes that policy makers and government officials do not lose sight on need to invest more in HUD in order to increase housing options for the poor.

“People are paying little attention to a more permanent solution, which is to make sure that we have enough affordable housing available to cover the need for it,” she said.

Jordan Frias

Jordan Frias is an editorial assistant at Boston Herald and a contributor of Spare Change News. He is vice president of the New England Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and a graduate of Northeastern University's School of Journalism.

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