The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development held an August 1 hearing, “Streamlining and Strengthening HUD’s Rental Housing Assistance Programs.” The hearing focused on the various housing reform bills considered over the last several years, including the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act, the Section 8 Savings Act and the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act, the latest draft of which was circulated on April 13 by the House Committee on Financial Services (see Memo, 4/13).
These broad housing bills would make major reforms to HUD’s voucher programs, while simplifying rent setting for the voucher, project-based Section 8, and public housing programs. Various versions of the bills would generate between $700 million and more than $1 billion in cost savings over five years.
Subcommittee Chair Robert Menendez (D-NJ) opened the hearing, saying that the Section 8 and public housing programs put roofs over the heads of millions of families. “Over the past several years, these programs have performed to high standards, while operating under dire funding restraints.”
Subcommittee Member Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) said that he would soon introduce legislation to improve HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, which would also extend the FSS program to project-based Section 8 households (see related article on the bill’s August 2 introduction in this issue of Memo).
Keith Kinard, executive director of the Newark Housing Authority and testifying on behalf of the Council of Large Public Housing Agencies (CLPHA), touted provisions of recent housing reform legislation that would greatly simplify the rent-setting and inspection processes for public housing agencies. Mr. Kinard also expressed CLPHA’s strong support of Moving to Work demonstration (MTW) expansion within any housing reform bill, and offered up the “stakeholder agreement” as proof that a widely-supported MTW expansion proposal could be included in broader housing reform legislation.
NLIHC and several other groups, including CLPHA, the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials (NAHRO), and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) developed a “stakeholder agreement” on MTW expansion in early 2012. This agreement was included in the latest, April 13 draft reform bill circulated by the House Committee on Financial Services. The stakeholder agreement provides for MTW expansion but also includes significant protections related to residents, use of rental assistance resources and evaluation.
Diane Hovdestad, of the Sioux Falls Housing and Redevelopment Commission and representing NAHRO, testified to the impact of reduced voucher administrative fees on the nation’s housing agencies, including landlords so frustrated by long waits for service that they are threatening to leave her voucher program. Ms. Hovdestad testified in support of reform bills’ changes to inspection protocols but stopped short of support the bills’ rent simplification provisions, saying that none of them accomplish real simplicity in determining income and calculating rents.
Howard Husock of the Manhattan Institute urged the Subcommittee to use HUD’s rental assistance programs as a path toward economic self-sufficiency for assisted households. Mr. Husock also voiced support for expanding the MTW program, and also said that perhaps the sale of high-value public housing properties could result in “maintenance endowments” for other public housing units.
Will Fischer, representing CBPP, testified that, given the nation’s elevated levels of homelessness and poverty, and widespread foreclosures, “the nation needs its housing assistance programs to be as efficient and effective as possible, and the measures in AHSSIA and SEVRA would take major steps toward that goal. The bill’s core provisions have been fully vetted through deliberations in the past four congressional sessions, and it is urgent that Congress enact them this year so that the large savings they would generate–as well as their many other benefits–can begin to be realized.”
Linda Couch testified on behalf of NLIHC. “In any reform bill, we urge the Subcommittee to balance new program flexibilities with the need for program accountability. In the long run, we fear that if Congress’ understanding of the programs’ use and impact fade due to fewer reporting requirements, the result would be decreased resources. The reforms we support bring efficiencies while continuing to hold all parties accountable for the use of federal resources,” Ms. Couch said.
“We have long debated whether or not HUD’s MTW program should be expanded or made permanent…. This issue has actually been a sticking point, preventing us from moving ahead on the substantial set of changes… that we can agree on,” Senator Menendez said. Senator Menendez also said he is encouraged by the stakeholder agreement on MTW. “Our continuous delay here [jn Congress] is creating consequences at the end of the day,” Senator Menendez said.
Members of the Preservation Working Group (PWG), including NLIHC, also sent a letter to Chair Menendez and Ranking Member Jim DeMint (R-SC) in support of various housing reform provisions related to the preservation of affordable housing, including AHSSIA’s several provisions that would improve the project-basing of vouchers.
The letter urges inclusion in housing reform legislation of two additional project-based voucher policy changes. First, PWG recommends exempting public housing revitalization from a public housing agency’s (PHA’s) project-based voucher cap. “Making this limited exception will provide a critical additional tool to PHAs who need it by giving them greater flexibility to manage their voucher programs in a way that leverages private capital to make overdue capital repairs,” the letter says. Second, the letter recommends enabling the project-basing of tenant protection vouchers. Expanding HUD’s authority to project-base tenant protection vouchers will help maintain affordability for low income households, prevent displacement of tenants, and will support revitalization of properties, the letter argues.
The Preservation Working Group letter is attached to this page.