On July 10, the Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance of the House Committee on Financial Services conducted an oversight hearing of HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH). In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chair Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) described the increasing cost of the Housing Choice Voucher program in recent years even though there is no indication that the growing need for affordable housing is anywhere close to being met.
Lourdes Castro Ramírez, HUD’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for PIH, said in her testimony, “Since 1965, HUD has increased the number of households receiving housing assistance from 600,000 to 4.6 million. The roof that HUD provides may not end poverty, but it is certainly making a significant difference in addressing the consequences of poverty by providing access to decent, safe and affordable housing and creating opportunities for self-sufficiency.”
Ms. Castro Ramírez also noted that the House’s FY16 HUD funding bill makes cuts to programs that would make it more difficult to service HUD’s program participants. She cited the bill’s failure to restore vouchers lost due to the 2013 sequester cuts and vouchers lost due to insufficient renewal funding.
Daniel Garcia-Diaz, Government Accountability Office (GAO) director of financial markets and community investment, testified that HUD has taken steps to rectify issues GAO raised in the past about HUD’s oversight of voucher program reserves and the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration. Mr. Garcia-Diaz said that HUD is improving its monitoring of PHAs and improper rental assistance payments.
Mr. Luetkemeyer asked both witnesses whether HUD’s 1,300 employees in the public housing and voucher programs were necessary, given that the programs’ funding formulas determine the resources local programs receive. Both witnesses testified that HUD’s programs require significant oversight. Mr. Luetkemeyer questioned PHAs’ ability to manage the voucher program, asserting that the national voucher utilization rate was at about 91%. Ms. Castro Ramírez responded that cuts to voucher administrative fees is a problem.
Much of the hearing focused on the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration program, which gives 39 of the nation’s 3,300 PHAs broad flexibility from existing program rules for public housing and the voucher program.
Financial Services Committee Ranking Member Maxine Waters (D-CA) said that, after 20 years, MTW has nothing to show for itself. “Why don’t we know MTW’s results? Numbers? People trained? Jobs created?” Ms. Waters questioned. Ms. Castro Ramírez noted that HUD’s FY16 budget request seeks to expand the MTW demonstration by 15 PHAs, but that “we agree with your statements that we need good performance information, good metrics to show good things and also policies that have not worked.” Ms. Waters asked why such information could not be extracted from the existing 39 MTW agencies. Ms. Castro Ramírez said she completely agrees, and that HUD is working on renewing the existing 39 MTW contracts in ways that improve demonstration monitoring.
Representative Nydia Velázquez (D-NY) raised concerns about the MTW demonstration as well, noting that HUD’s request for MTW expansion does not include the list of protections HUD and other stakeholders had agreed to in the “stakeholder agreement” of 2012. Members are frustrated, Ms. Velázquez said, because “you continue to ask for expansion but we don’t know if tenants are being protected.” Mr. Garcia-Diaz testified that the MTW demonstration’s “lack of oversight comes at a cost to tenants.” In addition, Mr. Garcia-Diaz said that there is no systematic data collection in the MTW demonstration, adding, “For the longest time, we’ve had a huge missed opportunity to find out what’s going on with this demonstration.” Ms. Velázquez asked, “Can we conclude it’s working?” Mr. Garcia-Diaz replied, “Until data come out, no.”
Mr. Luetkemeyer asked Ms. Castro Ramírez three different times whether HUD stood by the stakeholder agreement on MTW of 2012, but Ms. Castro Ramírez avoided answering the question.
The archived webcast of the hearing and witness testimony are at http://financialservices.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=399305.
More information about MTW is on page 4-17 of NLIHC’s 2015 Advocates’ Guide, http://nlihc.org/sites/default/files/Sec4.06_Public-Housing-Moving-to-Work_2015.pdf