In helping people who are experiencing varying levels of homelessness, my staff and I work toward one goal for all our clients — permanent supportive housing. Urban Community Outreach is a small, independent nonprofit that offers respite, nourishment, opportunity and hope from our facilities at the First Congregational Church in downtown Long Beach.
Our clients fall into two categories: those who receive housing subsidies from Section 8 vouchers and those who do not because they make “too much” from their low-wage jobs.
Thanks to the efforts of landlords and property managers, the Section 8 voucher payment standards are now at market rates. According to the Long Beach Housing Authority, the rental subsidies for vouchers are $1,922 for a 1-bedroom in 90803; $1,785 for a 1-bedroom in 90815; and $1,543 for a 1-bedroom in 90802. These are not below market-rates, right?
The challenge in gaining approval from a landlord/property manager for a Section 8 voucher client is not the payment values of the voucher — it is the bad credit, evictions and/or other blemishes that show up on a client's credit report. Unless their credit reports can be cleaned up, some of our clients will face insurmountable barriers in acquiring approval for an apartment.
We have generations of families who only know Section 8 housing. For some of these families, periodic homelessness, changing schools, panhandling, and insecurity at many levels are normal. Section 8 was implemented in 1974 to help house the poor and give them stability. However, it has resulted in an increasingly larger population of poor families completely reliant on government assistance with little hope of a brighter future.
In the meantime, the working poor are finding themselves in desperate situations, including families squeezing into studios and moving often because they cannot afford rent increases. Additionally, because whole buildings have been converted to only accept Section 8 voucher holders, the working poor have fewer housing options available to them.
Part of the solution is to encourage those with Section 8 to reduce reliance on hand-outs and give them opportunities to enter the workforce. The other solution that goes with this is to encourage employers to pay their employees wages that would support market-rate for housing.
Without a means to elevate their earnings, the working poor and the poor in general will continue to be a huge financial burden on the rest of us. According to my research, LA County spent more than $1.43 Billion in FY 2015-16 to address the needs of those who are homeless. HUD is proposing $44.1 Billion in FY 2020 for programs related to rental subsidies and homeless prevention (with minor funds set aside to address lead and other home safety issues). In his 2019-20 budget, California Governor Gavin Newsom is proposing $1 Billion to address homelessness.
We will all go broke trying to sustain this level of funding for the poor because there will be more and more people not working. We must reexamine the fact that we are spending billions of dollars annually to support programs that encourage people to remain poor. That is insane.
Our hardest clients to help find housing are those who are working low-wage jobs and not receiving any government payments (other than food stamps). We have clients working at local fast-food restaurants, other places and as caregivers who are homeless. How sad is that?
Julie Lie is executive director of Urban Community Outreach.