Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros says that the current affordable housing assistance programs are skewed in both scope and effect, shutting out three of four of those in need.

Worse, the Clinton-era secretary said, the programs are like a lottery win for the fourth of the four, often setting them on assistance for life.

Cisneros was speaking at a luncheon at the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Summit in Washington, D.C. on Monday afternoon.

“It’s on a first-come, first-served basis and three in four of those who need assistance won’t get any, while those who do can end up getting assistance for life,” Cisneros said. “There is only enough funding for one in every four applicants."

Because of the inflexibility in the program, he said, those who may only need temporary assistance can end up on the rolls almost permanently.

Separately, Cisneros told HousingWire that the focus of assistance is also skewed.

“In addition, we aren’t focusing on those in the most dire need of assistance. We focus in policy on helping those who are zero to 80% below area median wage, but in practice we ignore those 30% or more below median income, which is a real level of poverty and need. This can’t be sustained.”

Cisneros also told HousingWire that raising the housing tax credit would make a huge impact.

“In addition to prioritizing low-income housing assistance, we need to raise the housing tax credit by 50%, in the short term, so these people don’t fall back into poverty and homelessness,” he said. “If you believe as I do that we don’t have a trustworthy regime of housing assistance, then we have to look at this as a fundamental, national problem because it affects all of the economy.”