While the current affordable housing voucher program, Section 8, greatly benefits those who receive it, the program is woefully underfunded and applies only to the poorest Americans. Like healthcare, we must stop thinking and speaking about housing as something we supply to the poor only when they hit a rough patch in life; instead, we must see it as a right due to every American. A new solution for housing must approach the issue on two fronts: making renting affordable and dignified and creating a clear, equitable path to home ownership.
To improve the Housing Voucher program, we must replace the convoluted system of delivering Section 8, with its long waiting lists and determination by lottery, with a Universal Housing Voucher that covers every low-income American.
This universal program would be neither complex nor prohibitively expensive. According to a government study, it would cost around $40 billion, less than the government currently spends on SNAP benefits. Once this expansion takes place, anyone who meets the eligibility standards (a household income of $54,000) can apply for and receive a voucher.
No state needs these reforms more urgently than Arkansas. Arkansas is the only state in the nation where landlords are not required to make repairs or maintain their properties. Arkansas is also one of only 10 states that do not prohibit retaliatory eviction. While broader fair housing laws must be put in place on a state level,
financially securing these renters’ living costs through a Universal Housing Voucher would cause the number of evictions to plummet across the board. We must also pair this voucher program with a federal Tenants Bill of Rights to ensure that the money from this program does not go directly into the pockets of neglectful or predatory landlords.
To provide a path to home-ownership, we also need to provide federal funding for community land trusts across the nation. First time homeowners can buy homes through these organizations while the land trust retains ownership of the land on which the house sits, which reduces the property tax burden on these homeowners and allowing the land trust to keep house prices stable for long periods of time.
Without a decent home, you cannot live a dignified life. It should be our highest priority to guarantee that, no matter your income level, you have the freedom to live your life knowing you will have a quality home to return to when your day is done.