The House Budget Committee delved into the topic of affordable housing at its hearing “A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Expanding Economic Opportunity” held on January 28. Two witnesses included housing in their broader statements about poverty.
Robert Greenstein, President of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Congress could reduce poverty and support low income families by expanding HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher Program. He reported that there are only enough vouchers for one in four eligible households and there were 8 million unsubsidized low income households that paid more than half of their income towards housing costs in 2011. He also recommended several changes to the voucher program including allowing families with vouchers increased mobility, centralizing voucher administration by forming consortia of public housing agencies (PHAs), ending the premium paid to small PHAs to administer their voucher programs, setting fair market rent levels by zip code, implementing an outcome based performance management system, and strengthening HUD’s response to poor performing PHAs.
Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institute and the Annie E. Casey Foundation testified that poverty alleviation strategies would be improved by strengthening work requirements for recipients of housing subsidies. He discussed a proposal that would divide eligible benefit recipients into employed and unemployed households and convert non-cash benefits, such as housing subsidies, to cash benefits as an incentive for unemployed people to secure employment.
The Budget Committee also passed two bills on February 11 that would modify the Congressional budget process. The Biennial Budgeting and Enhanced Oversight Act of 2013, H.R. 1869, would change the federal government’s annual budgeting process into a two year process. In the first year, Congress would budget and appropriate for a two year period. The second year would be used for program oversight and passing authorizing bills with a minimum term of two years.
H.R. 1872, the Budget and Accounting Transparency Act of 2013, would change federal budgeting practices by including certain off-budget items, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, in the federal budget, using “fair value” accounting methodology to assess risk, and conducting a number of studies with the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of Management and Budget.