Founded in 1901, Empower Missouri is the largest anti-poverty advocacy organization in the state. As part of our work, we convene a statewide Affordable Housing Coalition every month. This coalition is made up of individuals and organizations who are working to ensure every Missourian has access to safe, affordable, stable housing. On behalf of our staff, board, and coalition members, we are asking you to vote NO on HB 2385.

If HB 2385 is passed, our concern is the impact it would have on affordable housing availability in Missouri, which already has a significant gap in available units, as well as the impact on the work being done to address rising homelessness in our communities, which increased 11.7% from 2022-2023. Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) and other federal rental assistance programs have been shown to be effective at reducing homelessness among households with low incomes, the elderly, people with disabilities, individuals with serious mental illness and substance use disorders. Children in families that receive vouchers after experiencing homelessness change schools less frequently and have a decrease in behavioral problems.

Vouchers help people move from homelessness to stable housing by providing subsidies for rental payments they may not otherwise be able to afford. Vouchers cover rent and utility costs above the required 30% of income that households pay. There are also additional services in place to cover a higher portion if the household experiences financial hardship. This is guaranteed, long-term income for landlords, with studies showing that the average length of stay in a unit is six years for households that use vouchers. Landlords maintain their right to evict if the tenant violates their lease, and the tenant is responsible for maintaining the unit or risk termination from the program. 

Housing Choice Vouchers, Section 8, and public housing programs have served 6% fewer people, while the people requesting a voucher has increased by 25%. This can lead to long wait times of 1-3 years. While waiting on a voucher, households are often paying more than 30% of their income towards rent, making it necessary to often choose between rent, food, medical care, and other basic needs.

Individuals can lose their voucher due to a landlord’s refusal to accept vouchers. Once a voucher is received, the individual has 60 days (sometimes longer) to locate a unit or risk losing their voucher, unless a short-term extension is granted. The unit must meet quality standards and the fair market rent amount determined by family size and location. However, with 67% or more of landlords refusing to rent to individuals with a voucher, it becomes difficult to successfully find and lease housing in the allotted time frame. 

Studies have shown that vouchers lift people out of poverty, increase mental and physical health outcomes, and decrease homelessness. Vouchers are a proven intervention to increasing the supply of affordable housing in communities, and this is done when landlords participate. Participation can be increased with a better understanding of the program, including the benefits of participation, and the overall positive impact it can have on their community. 

We ask that you support affordable housing and decreasing homelessness in Missouri by voting no on HB 2385.

This testimony was first submitted on January 30th, 2024, to the House General Laws Committee. You can follow it’s progress using the Bill Tracker below.

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