The House Committee on Financial Services is scheduled to mark up the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act on April 18. A draft version of the bill, which has not been formally introduced and thus does not have a bill number, was approved by the Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity on February 7. A revised iteration of the draft legislation was released on April 13. Key changes to the bill made in the April 13 bill are summarized below.
One of the most harmful and controversial sections of the bill is the inclusion of an increase to the minimum rents residents of public housing, voucher households and project-based Section 8 tenants must pay. The April 13 bill retains the increase of minimum rents to $69.45, but adds both hardship exemption improvements and the ability of local public housing agencies and owners to set minimum rents below the $69.45 rate, if they can demonstrate good cause. Together, these changes could buffer the minimum rent increase, which could impact as many as 500,000 households, who are the poorest households in these programs. The improvements to this section of the bill are the result of three influences: a desire for a bill that could attract bipartisan support, HUD’s revision of its own policy proposal on minimum rents, and advocate input.
Currently, public housing agencies (PHAs) are authorized, but not required to, set monthly minimum rents up to $50. The HUD Secretary has used his authority to set minimum rents in project-based Section 8 units at $25 (the maximum authorized is $50).
NLIHC’s opposition to the minimum rent policy is so strong that NLIHC’s support for the overall bill hinges on whether improvements to this section of the bill are included. NLIHC has urged Committee members to make any minimum monthly rent policy discretionary on behalf of the local housing agency and owner, and for the bill to include improvements to the current hardship exemptions, which are ineffective and underused. Although HUD’s FY13 budget request included an increase to minimum rents for these three largest HUD programs, HUD now supports both retaining discretionary authority for minimum rents at the local level and improved hardship exemptions to ensure housing stability for the lowest income households, the only households impacted by a minimum rent policy.
The revised draft bill also includes authorization for the HUD Secretary to establish hardship exemptions for households impacted by the bill’s changes to the deduction of un-reimbursed medical or health care expenses for any elderly or disabled family. Here, households could be protected if the Secretary determines that calculated rents endanger families unable to pay such an amount because of financial hardship.
The April 13 version of the bill also includes a new title, replacing the earlier bill’s version, on expansion of the Moving to Work (MTW) program. The highly controversial nature of this program has played a role in stalling this larger reform bill for many years. Earlier in 2012, NLIHC and several other stakeholder groups worked out a compromise on MTW expansion, which has been included in the April 13 version of the bill.
The bill would allow a significant number of units administered by high-capacity PHAs to be included in a basic MTW program. Units in the basic MTW would have the flexibility to streamline administrative procedures. Up to 25 agencies could also participate in an “enhanced” MTW program, which would have the ability to implement harmful policies, like rent reform, work requirements, and time limits only if doing so is part of rigorous evaluation protocols. For all, income targeting, resident rights and housing affordability would be protected to significantly greater extent than in the current demonstration sites.
The April 13 draft bill also newly includes language on the allocation of voucher renewal funding. The need for clear direction to HUD on the allocation of voucher renewal funding was a primary reason for the development of this legislation several years ago, and it will increase stability in the voucher program. New language in this section would allow for offset and reallocation of voucher funding.
Other provisions of the far-ranging bill would impact most HUD housing programs, but the bill primarily makes major reforms to the Housing Choice Voucher program. The draft bill would make numerous improvements to the project-basing of vouchers, simplify the rent-setting process for tenants and housing administrators, streamline the inspection process for voucher units, among many other reforms.
The Committee mark up will be on April 18 at 10 am in room 2128 of the Rayburn House office building. The mark up will be webcast via http://financialservices.house.gov/