The Senate returns from recess on October 31 with finishing the minibus appropriations bill, H.R. 2112, at the top of its agenda. H.R. 2112 includes FY12 appropriations for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD); Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration; and Commerce, Justice, and Science. The Senate is expected to debate and vote on H.R. 2112 early in the week.
While it includes several positive policy provisions for HUD programs and restoration of the Housing Counseling program, the Senate FY12 T-HUD portion of the bill, S. 1596, would cut HUD funding by 7%. The cuts could cause the loss of tens of thousands of Tenant Based Rental Assistance vouchers, underfund Project Based Rental Assistance contracts, and could lead to thousands of public housing units being shuttered for lack of capital funds, among other problems. The Senate bill would provide over $1 billion less than the House T-HUD Subcommittee bill.
Members of the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF), a group of national housing and community development organizations, sent letters throughout October to House and Senate T-HUD appropriators objecting to low allocation levels for HUD programs in the bills and the deep cuts to housing and community development programs.
In its letter to House and Senate Appropriators, NLIHC wrote, “As a CHCDF member, NLIHC has significant concerns over the cuts proposed in the House and Senate FY12 appropriations bills for [HUD]. The historically deep cuts made in these bills would cause thousands of household to lose their housing… Particularly, the Tenant Based Rental Assistance program would be underfunded by at least $330 million by the House T-HUD Subcommittee and at least $230 million in the Senate T-HUD bill. The House and Senate bills would also underfund the Project Based Rental Assistance (PBRA) program and could cause units to be lost. Lastly, these cuts proposed by both the House and the Senate to the Public Housing Capital Fund would cause tens of thousands of units to be lost.”
Organizations writing letters, in addition to NLIHC, represent a wide variety of concerns about the HUD budget and include: Enterprise Community Partners, Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities Housing Task Force, Corporation for Supportive Housing, LeadingAge, Lutheran Services in America, Mercy Housing, National AIDS Housing Coalition, National Alliance of Community Economic Development Agencies, National Alliance to End Homelessness, National American Indian Housing Council, National Coalition for the Homeless, National Disability Rights Network, National Housing Conference, National Housing Trust, and National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty.
Several amendments to the T-HUD bill were offered on the Senate floor during the week of October 17 including one by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK), S.A. 792, that would have ended payment to certain multifamily properties (see Memo, 10/21). The amendment would have stopped payment to owners of properties that are designated by HUD as “troubled,” in “poor physical condition,” or that have “life threatening deficiencies,” once over a period of 5 years, without consideration of the context of the designation or remediation of the issue.
The amendment would have relied upon data from the Online Property Integrated Information Suite (OPIIS), a new tool developed by HUD to assist the agency in identifying properties that are at the greatest risk for financial or physical failure at an earlier stage than was formerly possible. The database will allow HUD to better determine if a property is troubled and take appropriate action to remedy the identified problems.
In offering his amendment, Senator Coburn did not recognize that HUD already takes action on properties with life threatening deficiencies and other physical or financial problems by suspending payments or seeking appointment of a receiver. The amendment would have duplicated existing efforts to protect tenants and would have prevented HUD and owners from working together on a remedial plan to improve the conditions at the property. This would have caused tenants to be displaced from properties with current issues that could be remedied, as well as from properties that experienced deficiencies in the last five years but have been fully remedied.
This amendment was defeated by only one vote, with 59 Senators voting for the amendment and 40 voting against.
Other HUD amendments were filed, including another by Senator Coburn, S.A. 795, that would rescind funding for certain HUD construction and renovation projects that had not used funding within a certain timeframe or met certain funding criteria. This amendment is pending.
Three HUD amendments were filed but are not pending and so may not be considered prior to the vote on H.R. 2112. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) filed amendment S.A. 742 to cut funding for the Self Help and Homeownership Opportunity Program. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) filed S.A. 780, which would restore funding for the Housing Counseling program to the FY11 level of $87.5 million. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Scott Brown (R-MA) filed S.A. 906 that would have expanded HUD’s ability to preserve assisted housing units.
In addition to deep cuts, the House T-HUD Subcommittee FY12 bill includes a provision that would end assistance to formerly state-supported public housing units that were federalized (see Memo, 9/16). On October 24, six Senators wrote to Senate T-HUD Subcommittee Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) and Ranking Member Collins (R-ME) stating their opposition to a provision in the House T-HUD Subcommittee’s FY12 bill.
In 2009, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) “federalized” public housing units that were initiated, operated and funded by state governments. When ARRA authority and funding became available in 2009, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts proceeded to convert a portion of their units to federal public housing stock under contracts entered into by local public housing agencies, state agencies and HUD. These contracts effectively terminated earlier contracts between the state agencies and local public housing agencies (PHAs), in which state agencies paid PHAs to operate state public housing.
New York State converted 12,697 state-aided units to federal public housing. Massachusetts converted 4,000 state aided units, and Connecticut converted 496 units. Under the House bill, these 17,000 units of federalized public housing would not be funded but would still remain “federal” public housing.
“We feel that not only is there no rationale to disregard these [new] contracts, but it is a poor policy decision and use of taxpayer dollars for these federal conversions to leave tens of thousands of units in legal limbo,” write Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), John Kerry (D-MA), Scott Brown (R-MA), Charles Schumer (D-NY), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
The letter continues, “As we work together to create jobs and rein in our federal debt, it is imperative that we do not do so on the backs of our poorest and most vulnerable citizens who have been assured for the past two years that this federalized housing would provide them with the assistance they need. As a result, we ask that you maintain current law in your Appropriations bill for FY 2012 so that all federalized public housing properties can continue to receive critical operating assistance.” The Senate’s FY12 T-HUD bill does not change current law with regard to federalizing state public housing properties.
The Senate FY12 Agriculture bill, H.R. 2112, would cut rural housing programs. The Rural Rental Assistance, Section 521 program would be cut by $2 million below the President’s request and $51 million below FY11. The Rural Rental Housing Section 515 program would be cut by $30 million below the President’s request and $5 million below FY11. Other rural housing programs would be cut in the Senate bill to levels lower than the President’s FY12 budget request or the FY11 funding levels.
The Senate FY12 Commerce, Justice, and Science appropriations portion of the bill, S. 1572, would not provide enough funding for the Census Bureau to continue its current operations. NLIHC joined 50 other organizations in sending a letter to Senate leadership urging that the Senate not decrease funding for the Census Bureau. “While we are pleased that S. 1572 provides approximately $88 million more than the current House version of this bill, the bill’s funding is still not sufficient to ensure the Census Bureau’s ability to sustain all of its core programs and surveys at their optimum capacity,” write the organizations. The organizations ask the Senators to fund the Census Bureau, “at a level no lower than the amount recommended by the Senate Appropriations Committee” and to oppose amendments that would decrease Census funding.
House and Senate conference negotiations on final HUD, Rural Housing and Census bills are expected immediately after passage of the Senate bill. House Appropriators have indicated that they may attach additional appropriations bills to the Senate minibus.
House Appropriators have also said they expect to take through the end of the year to finish passing FY12 appropriations bills. The government is currently operating under a continuing resolution (CR) since Congress has yet to pass any of its FY12 spending bills. With the November 18 expiration of the current CR fast approaching, Congress must pass an additional CR to keep the government funded and avoid a shut down if they do not pass all their appropriations bills in the first three weeks of November.
View the CHCDF letters to appropriators: http://nlihc.org/doc/CHCDF_FY12Approps_Ltr_Oct2011.pdf
View the letter from Senators on federalized public housing units: http://nlihc.org/doc/THUD_Senate_Ltr_10-24-11.pdf
View The Census Project letter to appropriators: http://nlihc.org/doc/CensusProject_appropriators_10-14-11.pdf