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Housing vouchers may get revamped

WASHINGTON – The House voted Thursday to overhaul the housing voucher program, the federal government’s largest effort to help low-income families find affordable housing.

The legislation, passed 333-83, seeks to make housing vouchers available to more families, make it easier for people to use vouchers for first-time home purchases and create incentives for employment and higher education.

The bill, said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank, D-Mass., makes “significant improvements in one of the most important social programs in the federal government.”

It next goes to the Senate and must also overcome opposition from the Bush administration, which has objected to formula changes that affect how funds are allocated among local public housing authorities.

What is known as the Section 8 Voucher Program currently provides housing assistance for some 2 million low-income families. It costs about $16 billion a year.

Under the program, eligible tenants, which includes the elderly and disabled, pay 30 percent of their income for rent, with the federal government making up the difference.

The voucher program was initiated in 1983 as an alternative to project-based rental assistance, which was criticized for concentrating recipients in poverty-stricken areas.

The bill simplifies the rules used to establish rents and subsidies and adds incentives for voucher recipients to obtain work, increase income and pursue higher education. It increases voucher availability for lower income families in rural areas.

It adds 20,000 vouchers a year over five years to the program, at a cost of about $2 billion.


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