Like many states across the country, Connecticut’s housing market is booming. Factors such as the pandemic-imposed lull in the real estate market and rising building material costs have contributed to a sharp rise in homeownership and rental costs.
Housing purchase prices increased by 14% average in the last year. Closely following the national average, Connecticut experienced a increase of more than 15% in rents in a year-over-year comparison. These cost increases put the greatest pressure on low-income households who are already forced to spend too much of their income on housing. Housing vouchers are one of the most effective ways to help low-income households overstretched with expenses.
In Connecticut, eligible households acquire a housing voucher through the state-funded Housing Assistance Program (RAP) or the federally-funded Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCV/Section 8) . Both programs help households find suitable housing in the private market by subsidizing part of their rent to make their direct rent payment affordable. Most voucher programs ensure that households do not spend more than 30-40% of their income on housing costs.
Vouchers support families’ ability to thrive. They are a necessary tool to combat housing insecurity and help low-income renters struggling with the brunt of rising state housing costs. Vouchers ensure family stability and prevent evictions. They can effectively end homelessness. They allow geographical mobility. They can stop the cycle of poverty. And they can significantly reduce racial disparities in housing.
Vouchers also support the housing market. They provide guaranteed rental income to owners. Connecticut’s housing stock is old and in need of improvement. Many households are forced to live in unsafe and deteriorated housing. Voucher holders must rent in a home that meets a minimum standard of quality and safety. By adding more vouchers to the market, the quality of Connecticut’s housing stock would improve. It also opens the door to potential new programs that invest in improving the quality of housing in rental units to expand the pool of voucher-eligible rentals.
Currently, there are not enough vouchers available to meet the needs in Connecticut. Only 20-25% of households eligible for a voucher receive one. In 2021, approximately 48,000 Connecticut households received rental assistance. This is only a fraction of the number of households eligible for assistance.
Before the pandemic, more than 200,000 Connecticut households spent more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Programs like UniteCT, Connecticut’s Emergency Rental Assistance Program, provided time-limited support needed for households affected by the pandemic, but UniteCT was neither intended nor designed to provide the assistance to the long-term rental that many families need.
To ensure that everyone in Connecticut has safe and affordable housing, housing vouchers should be available to every household in need. Advocacy around programs like Universal housing vouchers has gained traction over the past two years, with President Biden backing the concept on his campaign trail and hosting scholars like Allan Mallach and non-partisan research organizations like Urban Institute encourage adoption.
Unlike the current federal Housing Choice Voucher program, implementing a universal voucher system would require sufficient ongoing funding for vouchers to be available for any eligible household. Unfortunately, the expansion of the federal program faces immense political and budgetary challenges. Fortunately, Connecticut can choose to advance investments in rental assistance programs. An additional $20 million in RAP would provide 2,000 households with flexible housing assistance and is an effective and necessary step to fill the gap and support Connecticut households in need of affordable housing.
Vouchers are a proven effective and equitable way to ensure that households in need remain stably housed. Increasing funding for housing vouchers and RAPs would lift households out of poverty and improve their quality of life, while improving the quality of Connecticut’s housing stock. Stable and affordable housing is essential to many aspects of people’s lives, but if the past two years have made anything clear, it’s that stable housing can mean the difference between life and death.
Kayleigh Pratt is a Senior Policy Analyst at Partnership for Strong Communities.