A Cut By Any Other Name

The Bush administration defends its “new formula” for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program by saying the new “dollar-based,” or “block grant” approach gives public housing authorities the flexibility to “adjust the program to the unique and changing needs of their community.”

Yesterday’s Providence Journal runs down how that new formula will affect one local community, Providence, Rhode Island:

“Last fiscal year, the Providence Housing Authroity issued 2,164 housing vouchers to its clients. The vouchers provided an average of $548 in rental assistance, or $14.2 million in reimbursement, according to Donna DeLaRosa of the housing authority.

Under the new formula, the vouchers will be worth an average $497 per household, which means the Housing Authority will serve only 1,895 households, O’Rourke said. The estimated reimbursement the PHA will receive from HUD for the next fiscal year will be about $12.4, million, which represents a decrease of about $1.8 million.

The change will eliminate 269 vouchers, officials estimate.”

The point here is that the new formula does just the opposite of what the White House says it does. It actually prevents PHA’s from responding to their community’s “unique and changing” needs. In Providence, both rent for housing and demand for vouchers are “on the rise.” Under the old formula, the federal government would reimburse the city for actual amounts paid in Section 8 leases. But the “new formula” (which actually went partially into affect as part of a 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act) has forced the PHA to do two things: lower its average reimbursement and cut the number of overall vouchers.


An argument about the virtues of “block grants” would be relevant only if the money included in the grant was similar to what would be needed to fulfill even existing Section 8 commitments. But for the Bush administration, a “’block grant” is “simply a cut by another name.”