On October 22 the House Committee on Financial Services held another in a series of hearings on the future of housing in America. Through these hearings, the Committee is examining the impact of federal housing policy, ways in which to measure success, and new approaches to meet twenty-first century housing challenges. This hearing focused on the role of HUD.
“In its history HUD has clearly achieved good. It has made commendable progress to aggressively fight immoral and illegal racial discrimination in housing. It has proven vital to many of our low income elderly and disabled citizens and has undoubtedly made poverty more tolerable,” said Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-TX). “But it also has dramatically failed to meet President Johnson’s noble aspirations, much less deliver any measurable results. It is simply not enough to marginally improve the lives of the able bodied poor through perpetual government dependency. Thus, our collective goal cannot be limited to helping people tolerate poverty. It must be to help them escape poverty. We must help them find ways for them to provide for their families, to conquer generational cycles of dependency, and to have the opportunity to enjoy the dignity of meaningful work.”
HUD’s Moving to Work (MTW) program quickly became the center of discussion among the Members and witnesses. All the witnesses and several Committee Members expressed some level of support for the program, noting that the flexibility of the program freed PHAs to be more innovative and responsive to local needs. Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute advocated that MTW be expanded nationwide to include every PHA, while Renee Glover, formerly of the Atlanta Housing Authority, spoke of the “transformational effect” it had on residents.
Others questioned the efficacy of the program given the dearth of data outcomes. Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) said, “We don’t have the data. We don’t have the information. Nobody knows. People talk about how great MTW is. Nobody can tell me exactly what has been accomplished.” Representative Scott Garrett (R-NJ) agreed, saying that HUD should have already collected the data, especially considering the program has been in place since 1998. Orlando Cabrera, a former Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing, explained that the lack of data is due to the fact that PHAs participating in MTW are released from reporting requirements.
Mr. Cabrera and Xavier de Sousa Briggs of the Ford Foundation cautioned against adopting universal work requirements in the program without proper supports like intensive job training and child care. “[Work] shouldn’t be a precondition to someone being housed,” said Mr. Cabrera. “It should be structured in a different way such that it’s not compelling someone to work. It’s compelling someone to get in a position to find better work. That’s a very different proposition. What I’m concerned about is having as a precondition, ‘You cannot live here unless you have a job’- that I think is counterproductive.” Doing so, he pointed out, essentially leaves people homeless without reducing government costs. Mr. Briggs noted that in developing such a requirement, policy makers need to consider the conditions of the labor market and other factors that affect a person’s ability to get and maintain work, and to ensure that the government provides the resources needed to fund supportive services.
Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) expressed concern about the rush to expand the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program without truly understanding the impact of the program on public housing residents. Mr. Cabrera responded that with more public housing units going offline because of lack of capital repairs, the priority should be on using the RAD program to convert those units to long-term project-based Section 8 rental assistance so they can once again be rented.
Watch the archived webcast of the hearing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AxEDBtjl-rU
Read witness testimony here: http://financialservices.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=399732
Read Chair Hensarling’s opening statement here: http://financialservices.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=399777