NLIHC Senior Vice President for Policy Linda Couch testified at a hearing of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing and Community Opportunity, “Legislative Proposals to Reform the Housing Choice Voucher Program,” on June 23. Other witnesses at the hearing included HUD Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing Sandra Henriquez, and representatives of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), Quadel Consulting, the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities (CLPHA), the Public Housing Authorities Directors Association (PHADA), the National Leased Housing Association (NLHA), and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
The hearing focused on a discussion draft of the Section Eight Savings Act of 2011 (SESA), the latest iteration of what has been known in past congresses as SEVRA, the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act (see Memo, 6/17). Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) is expected to introduce the bill in the coming weeks.
NLIHC is generally supportive of the SESA draft. “Simply put, if our programs are not targeting extremely low income households, they are not meeting our communities’ most pervasive and most acute housing affordability needs. This is why the housing choice voucher program is so important to NLIHC and why we are so eager to see improvements like those in the discussion draft of SESA enacted,” said Ms. Couch in her testimony.
In particular, Ms. Couch expressed NLIHC’s support for SESA’s provisions that would “simplify rent setting and encourage increased earned income while maintaining the core benefit of these programs to assisted households: rents set to the Brooke standard.” The Brooke standard caps rents at 30% of adjusted income.
Ms. Couch also provided suggestions as to how SESA could be strengthened, including the addition of provisions that would codify voucher renewal and reserve language, create a merged funding stream for Family Self-Sufficiency coordinators, and add language included in previous SEVRA drafts that would make improvements to the project-basing of vouchers.
In the hearing’s first panel, Ms. Henriquez expressed HUD’s support for SESA, and willingness to work with the Subcommittee to further improve the measure. Ms. Henriquez praised SESA’s cost-saving measures, noting in her testimony that the reforms in the bill and in HUD’s FY12 budget request will “save $1 billion over five years in HUD’s three largest rental housing assistance programs.”
Representative Gary Miller (R-CA) and representatives from CLPHA, PHADA, NHLA and NAHRO spoke in strong support of the Moving to Work (MTW) program, a demonstration that provides a limited number of public housing agencies flexibility from many HUD statutory and regulatory requirements. Although a proposed expansion of MTW was included in previous Section 8 reform bills, it was omitted from the SESA draft.
CLPHA noted in its testimony that it is hopeful that MTW can be included in SESA even though it is controversial. PHADA and NHLA both note their strong support the MTW program but do not directly say in their written testimony that MTW should be included in SESA. NAHRO’s written testimony states that, “If moving and passing long-awaited legislative reforms for non-MTW agencies means doing so without a separate title in SESA [to expand or make permanent MTW], NAHRO would support introduction and passage of a stand-along and well crafted MTW bill.”
Ms. Couch and Barbara Sard of CBPP voiced strong opposition to the expansion of the MTW program, largely because there is no reliable data on the efficacy of the program despite the fact that it has been in existence for more than 10 years.
Ms. Sard said that CBPP analysis suggests that the MTW program has in fact reduced the number of families served under HUD rent assistance programs. Ms. Sard recommended that an expansion of the program be considered as stand-alone legislation, given the broad agreement on SESA’s other provisions among the witnesses. In response to a question about MTW from Mr. Miller in the hearing’s first panel, Ms. Henriquez said that MTW status is not necessary for PHAs to effectively serve their clients.
Representative Sean Duffy (R-WI) suggested that time limits for housing assistance and work requirements for residents of public and assisted housing be included in SESA, the draft of which does not include any such provisions. In response to Mr. Duffy’s line of questioning, Ms. Couch said that NLIHC opposes such restrictions and noted that households do cycle out of when they no longer need the assistance. Arbitrary time limits would likely result in households returning to the rental assistance waitlist, or worse, may result in a household experiencing homelessness due to the lack of affordable housing, Ms. Couch said.
Ms. Couch said that the majority of households who receive housing assistance from HUD are elderly or disabled, and that working residents simply do not earn enough to be able to afford a market-rate apartment. Ms. Couch noted in her testimony that an expansion of the voucher program and the capitalization of the NHTF are critical to addressing the shortage of affordable housing and ending homelessness in the United States. Arguing for time limits, Mr. Duffy asked, “Are you OK with [the voucher program] being a lifestyle or a program for transition?” “I don’t think it’s a lifestyle. I think it’s a safety net,” Ms. Couch said.
Representative Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) disagreed with Mr. Duffy’s assertion that receiving housing assistance is a “lifestyle” for people, and Ms. Biggert noted that Mr. Cleaver’s comments in response to Mr. Duffy’s remarks was “very appropriate.”
An archived webcast of the hearing and witness testimony are available at http://financialservices.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=247180
The draft SESA bill is available at http://financialservices.house.gov/Calendar/EventSingle.aspx?EventID=247180
NLIHC’s press release on the hearing is available at http://nlihc.org/press/releases/262