The 112th Congress of the United States officially adjourned on January 3. It has been widely criticized as unproductive, passing fewer than 250 laws, a record low in modern times. In addition to the reports above on the National Housing Trust Fund and the FY13 budget, here is a review of significant bills related to NLIHC’s policy agenda introduced in the 112th Congress and their outcomes. Very little was accomplished.
Renters in Foreclosure
Congress failed to act on H.R. 3619, the Permanently Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act. The legislation, introduced by Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN), would have made the provisions of the 2009 Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act (PTFA) permanent. PTFA provides most renters in foreclosure a right to at least 90 days’ notice before being required to move. PTFA is now slated to sunset at the end of 2014. H.R. 3619 also would have added a private right of action for tenants who are adversely affected by foreclosure. The bill had 26 Democratic co-sponsors. Mr. Ellison is expected to reintroduce his bill in the 113th Congress. Further, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) will introduce companion legislation in the Senate early in the new Congress.
The 112th Congress included much work but no final product on legislation known, at various points, as the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) and the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act (AHSSIA). Legislation was never formally introduced in the House during the 112th Congress, but draft legislation was circulated, a version of which passed the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity.
The draft bill that passed out of subcommittee would have required the HUD Secretary to increase monthly minimum rents to $69.45 for all public housing, voucher and project-based Section 8 households, and give the Secretary the authority to increase the minimum rent for inflation in the future. Today, public housing agencies (PHAs) can set minimum rents of up to $50 a month for public housing residents and voucher holders. All project-based Section 8 residents have $25 minimum rents.
The bill would have also streamlined rent-setting process for both public housing agencies and private owners, updated inspection protocols for potential apartments to be rented with rental assistance vouchers and stabilized annual voucher renewal funding protocols.
The bill would have also allowed unlimited expansion of the Moving to Work (MTW) program, which gives participating PHAs the ability to divorce rents from incomes and charge rents that are unaffordable to residents, serve higher income residents even as the lowest income households have the greatest need, merge voucher and public housing accounts, eliminate portability rights and gives other freedoms from basic programmatic mainstays and protections. The major stumbling block in advancing the legislation was expansion of MTW. Although a stakeholder group, including NLIHC, developed an agreement on whether and how to expand MTW, the bill remained stalled in the House.
The Senate held a hearing on housing reform legislation but never circulated a draft bill or introduced formal legislation. At a December hearing, Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) said that he looked forward to prioritizing housing reform legislation in the 113th Congress.
Rental Assistance Demonstration
The 112th Congress authorized a Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), allowing HUD to operate a demonstration to preserve public housing units by approving the conversion of their public housing subsidies to project-based Section 8 rental assistance contracts or to project-based vouchers.
HUD began working on rental assistance reform proposals in 2009, and the passage of RAD in the 112th Congress was the culmination of its various proposals, originally called Transforming Rental Assistance. After a lukewarm initial reception from Congress, HUD persevered and worked with Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) to introduce a version of RAD in late 2010, the Rental Housing Revitalization Act, which included many improvements from the perspective of housing advocates.
Unlike earlier proposals, the RAD program approved by the 112th Congress provides no funding for the conversion of subsidy streams but does allow up to 60,000 public housing, Rent Supplement (Rent Supp), Rental Assistance Program (RAP) and Moderate Rehabilitation (Mod Rehab) units into the RAD demonstration and gives HUD the authority to convert their current assistance streams to project-based Section 8 contracts or project-based vouchers by September 30, 2015.
The final legislation included provisions in the areas of resident rights and protections, public ownership and long-term contract renewals, which were all key to NLIHC’s support for the demonstration.
Low Income Housing Tax Credits and Other Tax Expenditures
The American Taxpayer Reform Act of 2012 includes a provision to allow the 9% minimum value for Low Income Housing Tax Credits for projects that are allocated tax credits during 2013. This was a key policy goal of the ACTION Campaign, coordinated by Enterprise Community Partners, the National Council of State Housing Agencies and others to promote and improve the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. If the law was not changed, only projects actually placed into service in 2013 would have benefitted from this provision, which was established in the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008.
The ACTION Campaign will continue to seek legislation to make the 9% minimum credit floor permanent, and to add a similar floor for the 4% credit. Bipartisan legislation to do so was introduced in the House by Representatives Pat Tiberi (R-OH) and Richard Neal (D-MA) and in the Senate by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Olympia Snowe (R-ME). All but Senator Snowe are members of the 113th Congress.
The act also extended the use of Low Income Housing Tax Credits near certain military bases by changing policy so that a service member’s basic housing allowance is not considered income for purposes of calculating whether the service member is income eligible for LIHTC housing. This provision was extended until December 31, 2013.
In addition, the act extends New Markets Tax Credits (NMTCs) until the end of 2013 and extends until 2018 the time period for reallocating NMTC allocations that were not used.
Stafford Act Reform Legislation
Lawmakers failed to act on S. 1630, the Disaster Recovery Act of 2011, before the end of the 112th Congress. The legislation, sponsored by Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and co-sponsored by Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS), was endorsed by NLIHC and by many members of the Stafford Act Reform Group (formerly known as the Katrina Housing Group).
H.R. 1630 included several provisions advocated by NLIHC based on lessons learned after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. These include:
- Defining when a disaster is considered catastrophic and setting up mechanisms to ensure an appropriate federal role after a disaster.
- Improving the existing case management system for disaster victims by requiring that FEMA, HHS and HUD develop a single, comprehensive case management system and within one year develop regulations to ensure that every survivor has a single point of contact for case management services.
- Requiring all federal agencies that provide housing assistance to define the roles and responsibilities of each agency in the provision of disaster housing assistance.
- Simplifying current law to ensure that damaged rental properties could be quickly repaired and reoccupied instead of allowing money to be wasted on temporary housing units.
- Allowing for assistance to be provided to more than one household associated with the same pre-disaster address, if the household had to separate for reasons related to the disaster.
There was some hope that the Senate would take up S. 1630 after Super Storm Sandy hit the Northeast, but it did not progress. The Stafford Act Reform Group will encourage the bill’s sponsors to reintroduce it in the new Congress.
Choice Neighborhoods Initiative
Legislation to formally authorize the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative (CNI), HUD’s successor program to HOPE VI, was not enacted in the 112th Congress. Bills were introduced in the Senate and House to formally enact CNI, which HUD first proposed in its FY10 budget request to Congress. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) introduced the Senate and House bills, respectively.
Without authorizing legislation, the CNI program is currently operating largely by broad policies passed as part of FY10, FY11 and FY12 HUD appropriations bills and HUD’s own vision of how to implement the particulars of the program, as stated in the annual Notices of Funding Availability for the program (see article elsewhere in Memo). If enacted, legislation could set permanent policies around entities eligible to receive CNI funding, contents of applications and approval protocols, public housing resident rights regarding returning to transformed housing and participation in decision-making and one-for-one replacement, as well as other areas of interest to public housing agencies and residents.
Key Congressional supporters of CNI remain in office. Senator Menendez returns in the 113th Congress as Chair of the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. Ms. Waters ascends in the 113th Congress to Ranking Member of the House Committee on Financial Services.
Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization
Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) by the end of the 112th Congress. The House and Senate developed different versions of reauthorizing legislation, H.R. 4970 and S. 1925, respectively. Both pieces of legislation would have increased access to emergency and affordable housing for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, although the Senate provisions were more expansive. The legislation ultimately failed due to differences between the two chambers about whether VAWA protections should be expanded to:
- Allow for tribal authorities to prosecute domestic violence cases that occur on tribal land.
- Include assurances that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered victims of domestic violence are covered by VAWA protections.
- Include protections for immigrant victims of domestic violence.
There is considerable interest in Congress and among advocates to advance the legislation in the 113th Congress, although it remains unclear whether a consensus can be reached on the areas of disagreement listed above. The housing provisions of the bill were not the subject of the controversy.
H.R. 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act of 2011
On the second day of the 112th Congress, Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL), Chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, introduced H.R. 32 to expand the definition of homelessness. The bill would have amended the definition under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act to include children and youth who have been verified as homeless. The measure was approved at the subcommittee level but did not advance further. Chair Biggert lost her bid for reelection and the future of the measure in the 113th Congress remains unclear.
Legislation to Assist Formerly Homeless Students
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) introduced legislation in the 112th Congress, S. 3494 and H.R. 3076, respectively, to make formerly homeless full-time students eligible for Low Income Housing Tax Credit- (LIHTC-) financed housing. Currently, students are not allowed to be the leaseholder of an LIHTC-financed housing unit. The rationale behind the prohibition is to ensure that tax credits are not used to finance the development of university dormitories. However, there are exceptions to this prohibition, including for youth aging out of foster care and for individuals enrolled in job training programs. NLIHC endorsed both bills. Neither the House nor Senate acted on the legislation.
Federal Surplus Property
Proposals to reform the federal surplus property disposition process for the benefit of federal deficit reduction gained significant traction in the 112th Congress. Housing advocates, led by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, worked to ensure that homeless service providers’ right of first refusal to these properties as provided under Title V of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was retained in any proposal that would alter the disposition process.
Several proposals were considered and advanced in the 112th Congress, including:
- The Federal Real Property Asset Management Reform Act of 2012 (S. 2178), which was approved by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs.
- The Excess Federal Building and Property Disposal Act of 2012 (H.R. 665), which passed the House of Representatives unanimously.
- The Federal Real Property Disposal Enhancement Act of 2011 (H.R. 1205).
- The Civilian Property Realignment Act (H.R. 1734).
However, none of these measures were enacted prior to the end of the 112th Congress. While the measures would limit the access of homeless service providers to some of the properties, the language included in H.R. 665 was the least harmful. It is expected that this issue will continue to be prominent in the new 113th Congress.
Inclusive Home Design Act
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) reintroduced the Inclusive Home Design Act (H.R. 5781 in the 112th Congress). NLIHC, along with 10 members of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities (CCD) Housing Taskforce, endorsed the legislation, which would have required newly constructed single-family houses and townhouses built with federal assistance to include a minimum standard of visitability.
Visitability is a design concept in which homes are constructed in a way that makes them accessible to people with disabilities. The bill would require visitability design features in certain federally assisted housing, including doorways that are wide enough for a wheelchair on the main level and at least one wheelchair-accessible bathroom in every home.
The measure did not advance in the House of Representatives and must be reintroduced in the new 113th Congress.
Family Self-Sufficiency Act
Legislation was introduced in the House and Senate during the 112th Congress to improve the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program. Representative Judy Biggert (R-IL), Chair of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, introduced the Family Self-Sufficiency Act of 2011 (H.R. 34).
Among other provisions, the bill would have put into statute the existing method of funding HUD’s FSS program through administrative fees for Housing Choice Vouchers. It would have provided one FSS coordinator for public housing agencies (PHAs) with more than 25 FSS participants, a second for those with more than 75 voucher participants and a third for those with more than 125 participants. Further, the bill would have required HUD to establish and implement FSS performance measures, collect FSS program data, evaluate the program’s effectiveness and report to Congress on its findings. It would have allowed the HUD Secretary to incentivize innovative or successful FSS programs, as well. The FSS program allows PHAs to develop local strategies to help voucher families obtain employment that will lead to economic independence and self-sufficiency. It is voluntary for families.
Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced similar legislation (S.3513 in the 112th Congress). Neither measure was acted on in the 112th Congress, and Chair Biggert lost her bid for reelection to the 113th Congress.
Senator Mike Johanns (R-NE) introduced the Small Public Housing Agency Opportunity Act of 2012 (S. 3538 in the 112th Congress). The legislation would have allowed for greater flexibility and enacted many changes in oversight requirements for small public housing agencies (PHAs), defined by the bill as PHAs that administer a combined total of 550 or fewer public housing units and Housing Choice Vouchers (see Memo, 9/21/12).
NLIHC has various concerns about the measure, including its proposed rent reform demonstration that does not include sufficient protections for tenants or evaluation components; the ability for every small PHA to increase the percent of vouchers it may project-base from 20% to 50%; weakening of Section 3 requirements for small PHAs; authorization for small PHAs for comingle all of their public housing and voucher funding; decrease in reporting requirements by small PHAs to HUD and conversion of small PHAs’ public housing subsidy to project-based contracts or project-based vouchers without any of the myriad protections included in the 112th Congress’s Rental Assistance Demonstration (see related section previously in this article). The legislation did not advance in the 112th Congress.
Veterans Housing Bills
There was considerable legislative activity in the 112th Congress related to the housing needs of low income veterans. Listed below are the measures that gained the most traction.
- Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) introduced the Housing Assistance for Veterans (HAVEN) Act of 2012 (S. 3614 in the 112th Congress). The legislation would have established a pilot program to authorize the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to make grants to nonprofit organizations to rehabilitate and modify homes of low income veterans and veterans with disabilities. The measure would have authorized $4 million in annual appropriations for FY13 to FY17 to carry out the activities provided for in the bill. The measure was companion legislation to H.R. 6381, introduced by Representative Al Green (D-TX). H.R. 6381 passed the House as part of H.R. 6361, the Vulnerable Veterans Housing Reform Act. However, the Senate did not act on the measures before the end of the 112th Congress and as such, the proposal ultimately failed.
- Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced the Women’s Homeless Veterans Act (S. 3308 in the 112th Congress). The legislation would have required that at least 15% of the funds in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program be allocated to veterans who are experiencing homelessness and have special needs. This allocation would have included services provided to female veterans. S. 3308 would have also authorized the use of GPD payments for the dependents of currently homeless veterans who are receiving assistance through the GPD program. Hearings on the measure were held by the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, but no further action was taken.
- Senator Mark Begich (D-AK) and Representative Janice Hahn (D-CA) introduced legislation to update the definition of homeless veteran to ensure that veterans fleeing domestic violence or another life-threatening condition be eligible for assistance under the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. The 2009 Homeless Emergency Assistance and Rapid Transition to Housing (HEARTH) Act updated the definition of homelessness to cover individuals fleeing domestic violence. However, the definition of homeless veteran was not updated to reflect this change. While committee hearings were held on the Senate measure, no further action was taken and the measures (H.R. 4287 and S. 3049 in the 112th Congress) died with the end of the 112th Congress.
- Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) introduced the Homeless Veterans Assistance Act of 2012 (S. 3309 in the 112th Congress). Committee hearings were held on the measure but no further action was taken before the end of the 112th Congress. The legislation would have, among other provisions, authorized the use of VA Grant and Per Diem (GPD) program dollars for the care of dependents of a currently homeless veteran who also is receiving assistance through the GPD program. The measure would have expanded the VA’s authority to provide dental care to veterans experiencing homelessness, and would have authorized grants for the operational expenses of centers providing direct services to homeless veterans. The legislation would have extended the authorizations of several programs and authorities including the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Programs (HVRP) and the Advisory Committee on Homeless Veterans.
- Legislation was introduced in the House and Senate to reauthorize the Grant Program for Homeless Veterans with Special Needs and HVRP. The measure would have also required the Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, within one year of the bill’s enactment, to submit a plan to Congress on how to end homelessness among veterans. The House measure (H.R. 2559 in the 112th Congress) was introduced by Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL), and the Senate measure (S. 1148 in the 112th Congress) was introduced by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). Hearings were held on the Senate bill, but both bills ultimately died with the end of the Congress.
- Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the Honoring All Veterans Act of 2011 (S. 1060 in the 112th Congress). Among other provisions, S. 1060 would have reformed the per diem program for homeless veterans to account for rising service costs. The measure would also permanently extend foreclosure protections for military families. A committee hearing was held on the bill but no further action was taken before the close of the Congress.
- Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) reintroduced the Zero Tolerance for Veteran Homelessness Act of 2012 (S. 3349 in the 112th Congress). The bill would have required the VA, within one year of the bill’s enactment, to complete a study on its GPD program, develop improved procedures for fiscal control and fund accounting for GPD grants and develop an improved system for the reimbursement of GPD grant recipients. The bill would have allowed mixed financing to be used to build, remodel or acquire properties to be used for housing for veterans experiencing homelessness. The measure would create the position of Special Assistant for Veterans Affairs within the HUD Secretary’s office, and would also require the VA to develop a comprehensive plan to end homelessness among veterans within one year of the bill’s enactment. No action was taken on the bill and it died at the end of the 112th Congress.