Through HUD 's rental assistance programs housing is made available to five million people annually. HUD has three main programs: Housing Choice Voucher, public housing, and project-based Section 8. Payments under these programs in 2003 accounted for $28 billion, or approximately 75 percent of the agency 's total expenditures. HUD 's payments cover the difference between a housing unit 's monthly rental cost or the operating cost for public housing and a tenant 's payment, which is generally the equivalent of 30% of a tenant 's adjusted monthly income. Each year, the number of poor Americans eligible for assistance far exceeds the number of subsidized housing units or vouchers that are available.
The voucher program is the largest of HUD 's rental assistance programs. It provides vouchers that low-income individuals and families can use to rent houses or apartments in the private housing market. In 2003 vouchers helped approximately two million households and accounted for $13 billion. Only households earning less than 50 percent of the local average income can receive vouchers.
HUD also subsidizes the development and operation of government-owned properties. In 2003 HUD 's public assistance program helped 1.2 million households and accounted for $7 billion. To be eligible, households must earn less than 80 percent of the local average income. The agency also subsidizes rents at multifamily housing developments under the Section 8 program. In 2003 HUD helped 1.6 million households under this program, with expenditures of $8 billion.
An analysis of the Congressional data shows that HUD paid an estimated $1.4 billion in improper rent subsidies in 2003 as a result of the agency 's errors. Since the overpayments exceeded the underpayments, HUD was not able to use approximately $377 million to assist low-income households. An additional 56,000 families could have been provided housing assistance. Instead, many were left homeless.
Between 2002 and 2004 HUD field offices were directed to conduct local reviews of voucher and public housing programs. However, the report found that "officials from most of the HUD field offices ...did not have enough staff to conduct all of their reviews. As a result ... some field offices had to use staff with little or no experience. " Further, the Congressional report determined that the staff employed at many local HUD field offices were poorly paid, received little training, and were given too much responsibility. Consequently, this resulted in misapplying program policies and calculation errors in determining eligibility.
The Government Accountability Office strongly advised the Bush administration in 2001 that HUD needed to make significant improvements. Yet the administration ignored the agency 's problems. There can be little doubt that this was attributable to the administration 's exclusive focus on the war in Iraq. As a result, an increasing number of America 's poorest were left homeless.