Like many states across the country, Connecticut’s housing market is surging. Factors including the pandemic-imposed lull in the real estate market and increasing costs of building materials have contributed to a sharp increase in both homeownership and rental costs.
Housing purchase prices have increased an average of 14% in the last year. Tracking closely with the national average, Connecticut has seen an increase of over 15% in rents in a year-over-year comparison. These cost increases place the greatest pressure on low-income households that are already forced to spend too much of their income on housing. Housing vouchers are one of the most effective ways to aid cost-burdened low-income households.
In Connecticut, eligible households acquire a housing voucher through either the state funded Rental Assistance Program (RAP) or the federally funded Housing Choice Voucher program (HCV/Section 8). Both programs support households to find adequate housing in the private market by subsidizing a portion of their rent to make their out-of-pocket rent payment affordable. Most voucher programs ensure that households do not pay more than 30-40% of their income on housing costs.
Vouchers support families’ ability to thrive. They are a necessary tool to address housing insecurity and assist low-income renters struggling under the weight of the state’s rising housing costs. Vouchers provide families stability and prevent evictions. They can effectively end homelessness. They allow geographic mobility. They can stop the cycle of poverty. And they can greatly narrow racial disparities in housing.
Vouchers also support the housing market. They provide guaranteed rental income to landlords. Connecticut’s housing stock is old and in need of improvement. Many households are forced to live in unsafe, deteriorating units. 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. This also opens the door to potential new programs that invest in improving housing quality in rental units to expand the pool of voucher-eligible rentals.
Currently there are not nearly enough available vouchers to meet the need in Connecticut. Only 20-25% of households that are eligible for a voucher receives one. In 2021, approximately 48,000 Connecticut households received rental assistance. This is a mere fraction of the number of households eligible for assistance.
Pre-pandemic, over 200,000 Connecticut households were spending more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Programs like UniteCT, Connecticut’s emergency rental assistance program, provided necessary time-limited support to households impacted by the pandemic, but UniteCT was neither intended nor designed to provide the long-term rental assistance many families need.
In order to ensure everyone in Connecticut has a safe affordable home, housing vouchers should be available to every household that needs one. Advocacy surrounding programs like Universal Housing Vouchers has gained traction over the past couple years, with President Biden supporting the concept on his campaign trail, and housing scholars like Allan Mallach and nonpartisan research organizations like Urban Institute urging adoption.
Unlike the current federal Housing Choice Voucher program, implementation of a universal voucher system would require continuous sufficient funding so that vouchers are available to any qualifying household. Unfortunately, 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 RAPs would provide 2,000 households with flexible housing support and is an effective and necessary step toward filling the gap and supporting Connecticut households in need of affordable housing.
Vouchers are a proven effective, equitable way to ensure households in need remain stably housed. Expanding funding for housing vouchers and RAPs would lift households out of poverty and improve their quality of life, while also improving the quality of Connecticut’s housing stock. Stable, affordable housing is critical to so many aspects of people’s lives, but if the past two years have made anything clear, it’s that stable housing can be the difference between life and death.
Kayleigh Pratt is a Senior Policy Analyst at Partnership for Strong Communities.