Maine affordable housing leaders, tenants, and researchers unite in call for passage of legislation to improve and expand the section 8 housing voucher program.

Portland – Affordable housing providers, advocates, low-income tenants and researchers gathered at Fore River Apartments in Portland on Friday to urge the U.S. Senate to approve the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA).

The Maine Center for Economic Policy released new research indicating that the demand for Section 8 housing in Maine far outstrips the supply of vouchers. “Our research uncovered a huge need for more Section 8 vouchers and a faulty funding structure that discourages the issuance of all authorized vouchers. Maine would benefit greatly from the passage of SEVRA,” said Nicole Witherbee, Ph.D., federal budget analyst at MECEP.

“Having the ability to utilize a Section 8 voucher was a critical component in assisting me in providing for my family while I was in law school. As a single mother of three small children, I was able to provide them with stable and appropriate housing while I completed my degree and increased my earning potential,” said Mary-Anne E. Martell, Esq., Attorney and Principal of Seacoast Law & Title in Westbrook. “As a taxpayer and employer, that housing opportunity was a significant part of my present ability to financially contribute to both my community and state.”

Craig McEwen, Ph.D., Professor of Political Economy and Sociology at Bowdoin College, described some of the fallout from the voucher shortage that he and his students have discovered over the past year through interviews with families languishing on waiting lists for Section 8 housing. “Many waiting list families – parents and children – are under considerable strain in the face of doubling up and overcrowding or unhealthy temporary housing that ranges from tents to unfinished and unheated basements,” said McEwen.

The Maine Association of Public Housing Authority Directors also participated in Friday’s event and pointed to the need for modernization of a Section 8 program that has achieved enormous success in reducing and preventing homelessness, stabilizing families and supporting local economies, but which has not been reauthorized by Congress since 1998. “The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a critical resource in stabilizing the lives of Portland’s most vulnerable populations. The SEVRA reforms will allow us operate more efficiently and serve more families and individuals who are homeless, or at risk of being homeless,” said Mark Adelson, Deputy Executive Director of the Portland Housing Authority.

Legislation which would both expand and improve the Section 8 program is currently pending in Congress. The Section 8 Voucher Reform Act was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in July of 2007 and companion legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate earlier this month. SEVRA would make numerous and meaningful improvements to the program, allowing it to serve more families more efficiently. It also authorizes 100,000 new, desperately needed vouchers nationwide.

“We have a real opportunity to strengthen one of Maine’s most important affordable housing programs at a time when foreclosures and an economic downturn are causing widespread housing insecurity,” said Greg Payne, coordinator of the Maine Affordable Rental Housing Coalition. “We call on Senators Collins and Snowe to continue their past support for the Section 8 program by helping to assure SEVRA’s swift passage through Congress.”

The Housing Choice Voucher Program, also known as “Section 8”, is the nation’s largest low-income housing program. Recipients of Section 8 housing vouchers use them to rent modest housing in locations of their choosing in the private market. Since its enactment in 1974, the program has proven to be enormously successful in reducing and preventing homelessness, stabilizing families and supporting local economies. About 2 million households in the U.S., and 12,000 households here in Maine, are housed through Section 8 vouchers.