After days of debate, the Senate passed a spending package that included the FY17 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) appropriations bill on May 19 by a vote of 89 to 9. NLIHC supported passage of the bill that includes no significant funding cuts, ensures households currently served by HUD programs will continue to receive assistance, and protects the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.
The Senate THUD bill will:
- Provide sufficient funding to renew existing project-based rental assistance contracts;
- Allocate enough funds to renew existing Housing Choice vouchers and provide additional funds for new vouchers targeted to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program and the Family Unification program;
- Increase funding for public housing;
- Provide new resources to homeless assistance programs, including targeted funds to address youth homelessness;
- Level-fund the HOME Investment Partnerships program, the Community Development Block Grant program, and the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program;
- Increase funding for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program and the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program; and
- Provide more resources to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes grants.
Housing and civil rights advocates sprang into action when Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA) filed an amendment attacking the Fair Housing Act. Their amendment would prohibit HUD from implementing the AFFH rule and its assessment tool. The senators argued that the rule turns HUD into a national zoning board with the power to overturn or rewrite local zoning laws.
NLIHC defended the AFFH rule in a letter sent to the Senate, explaining that the rule simply clarifies existing fair housing obligations and allows states and local governments to more fairly and effectively invest federal funds in their communities. NLIHC and our members and state partners made calls, sent letters, and issued action alerts to defeat the amendment.
Senators took to the floor to speak about the importance of the AFFH rule in realizing the promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, with some recounting their own experiences facing or witnessing housing discrimination. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a former mayor, spoke of the discrimination his parents faced when trying to buy a home and how the Fair Housing Act came to their aid. “Legislation that this body passed empowered my family to move into the home of their dreams in an all-white neighborhood with incredibly good schools that I went through from K through 12,” Senator Booker said. “I am the beneficiary of work this body did to ensure that our American values are preserved, our values of inclusion and integration, to make sure fair housing is the law of the land. That work gave me my start in life. The activism of local activists, combined with the law of the land as passed by us, defined my path.”
Senators also explained that the AFFH rule empowers local communities to better address the housing needs of all residents and does not allow “federal bureaucrats to dictate where a community’s low income residents will live,” as Senator Lee argued. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) spoke about how the rule will allow communities to gather “more information to try and find ways we can end the lack of housing availability for certain Americans by bringing in data and trying to create new ways to [address the problem].” He referred to the housing discrimination faced by many people with disabilities, as more than 50 percent of fair housing complaints filed each year are disability-related.
THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and others pointed out that the rule was a direct response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that criticized HUD for not effectively enforcing the Fair Housing Act. “[The AFFH rule] wasn’t some wild scheme that was dreamed up by bureaucrats at HUD, as some have claimed,” Senator Collins said. “This was in response to a report from the Government Accountability Office. We talk about how we want more efficiency, better accountability. That is why we have the GAO. This rule that was directly adopted in response to the GAO’s report surely is significant.”
Senators noted that in responding to the GAO, HUD worked diligently to craft a rule that addressed the needs and concerns of many stakeholder groups, a process that spanned years and involved input from the public, including mayors and county executives.
Senators opposing the Lee-Cotton amendment secured the votes needed to set the amendment aside, defeating efforts to have it included in the THUD bill by a vote of 60 to 37.
Senator Collins, Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS), and THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) offered an amendment that made clear that the new rule does not provide local zoning authority to HUD. That amendment was adopted on an 87-9 vote.
It was important for the Senate to block the AFFH amendment from being included in the THUD bill, given that the House has included a similar provision in its THUD spending bill the past two years and may do so again. If both the House and Senate bills were to include language blocking the AFFH rule, the likelihood would increase that such language would be incorporated in a final THUD bill negotiated between the two chambers. NLIHC and our coalition partners will continue to monitor the appropriations process and work to protect the AFFH rule.
The Senate adopted a number of other housing-related amendments by voice vote. Those included:
- An amendment from Senators Diane Feinstein (D-CA) and Robert Portman (R-OH) that provides a four-year suspension of the 24-month funding commitment deadline under the HOME Investment Partnerships Program.
- An amendment from Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) that prohibits funds being used to provide housing assistance to individuals convicted of certain criminal offenses.
- An amendment from Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) that shortens the time given to a property owner to respond to physical deficiencies in HUD-assisted housing.
- An amendment from Senator John Barasso (R-WY) that allows Indian tribes to use certain funds to construct housing for specified skilled workers.
- An amendment from Senator Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) that prohibits the use of funds for the Continuum of Care program unless the program allows for zero-tolerance recovery housing.
- An amendment from Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) that ensures the safety of properties covered under a housing assistance payment contract.
Read NLIHC’s call to action on the AFFH amendment at: http://bit.ly/1W6u5Ni
Read the text of the Lee-Cotton amendment at: http://1.usa.gov/1W6ujny
Read the text of the Collins-Reed-Cochran amendment at: http://1.usa.gov/1WGxzpB