NLIHC submitted comments regarding HUD’s draft Operations Notice for Expansion of the Moving to Work (MTW) Demonstration Program (see Memo, 5/8). NLIHC conveyed strong opposition to the inclusion of work requirements, time limits, and major changes to rent policies among possible conditional waivers in the draft Operations Notice. NLIHC also offered several suggestions for improving resident participation in the decision to apply for MTW status. While NLIHC supported HUD’s proposal to determine an MTW expansion agency’s voucher renewal funding based on 90% of its housing assistance payment (HAP) expenditures from the previous year, a welcome shift away from the block grant approach, NLIHC urged HUD to narrow the range of HAP funds that might be used for local, non-traditional programs.
The “Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016” authorized HUD to expand the MTW demonstration to an additional 100 high performing public housing agencies (PHAs) over a seven-year period (see Memo, 12/21/15). PHAs will be added to the MTW demonstration in annual groups (cohorts), each of which will be overseen by a research advisory committee to ensure the demonstrations are evaluated with rigorous research protocols, quantitative analysis, and comparisons to control groups. Each year’s cohort of MTW sites will be directed by HUD to test one specific policy change.
The draft Operations Notice proposed three categories of statutory and regulatory waivers that MTW agencies could pursue:
- General waivers available without review by HUD to all MTW expansion agencies.
- Conditional waivers available if approved by HUD. Conditional waivers are expected to have a greater and more direct impact on households.
- Cohort-specific waivers available only to MTW agencies implementing a specific cohort policy change.
NLIHC’s letter conveyed strong opposition to the inclusion of work requirements, time limits, and major changes to rent policies among possible conditional waivers. Because such policies have the potential to cause substantial harm to residents in the form of severe cost burden, housing instability, and perhaps homelessness, those policies should only be allowed as cohort-specific waivers subject to the most rigorous evaluation required by the MTW expansion statute.
In addition, several of the proposed conditional waiver parameters pertaining to rent policies, such as allowing an MTW PHA to charge a minimum rent of 50% of adjusted income or allowing a resident to suffer a rent burden up to 40% of gross income, were far too liberal. PHA representatives have complained that these and other parameters were too restrictive.
NLIHC also offered several suggestions for improving resident participation in the decision to apply for MTW status. The Operations Notice should clearly and explicitly declare that an intent to apply for MTW status constitutes a Significant Amendment to the PHA Plan. A Significant Amendment triggers Resident Advisory Board engagement as well as outreach that encourages resident and public engagement by reviewing and commenting on the proposal, especially at a required public hearing regarding the PHA’s intent to apply for MTW status.
In addition, the final Operations Notice should have the same resident participation information contained in Notice PIH-2017-01, which was withdrawn prior to formal publication. Among other provisions, Notice PIH-2017-01 called for PHAs to notify public housing and voucher residents of an intention to apply for MTW status, and to hold at least two public meetings for them before conducting a separate public hearing about the MTW application. The Notice also called for PHAs to describe actions they took to proactively engage residents before and during the creation of an MTW application, as well as explain how they plan to continue to engage residents in the implementation of their MTW program.
A May 4 proposed revision to the Operations Notice would allow MTW agencies to mandate Family Self-Sufficiency participation as a condition for housing assistance. NLIHC opposed allowing an FSS mandate because it could lead to termination of assistance and thus housing instability.
The draft Operations Notice would require an expansion MTW agency to spend at least 90% of its annual voucher budget authority on eligible HAP expenses each year. It would also determine an MTW expansion agency’s voucher renewal funding based on 90% of its HAP expenditures from the previous year. NLIHC welcomed this shift away from the block grant approach, but urged HUD to narrow the range of HAP funds that might be used for local, non-traditional programs. NLIHC supported a suggestion offered by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that proposed basing HAP renewal funds on 98% of the previous year’s HAP expenditures, but allowing HUD to approve a percentage less than 98% (but no less than 90%) to test non-HAP uses associated with policies subject to rigorous cohort evaluation.
NLIHC’s comment letter is at: http://bit.ly/2sZ4b2F