House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance Chair Blaine Luetkemeyer’s (R-MO) housing assistance reform bill received broad support during an October 21 hearing. H.R. 3700, the “Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act,” would streamline calculations of income, rent setting, and inspections, and would make improvements to the project-basing of vouchers and the Family Unification Program, among other improvements (see Memo, 10/13).
In his opening statement, Chair Luetkemeyer said he is looking for “ways to cut red tape and replace it with opportunity. H.R. 3700 is a first step in a long journey to reforming housing assistance.” Subcommittee Ranking Member Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) spoke favorably of the bill and of his ability to work collaboratively with Chair Luetkemeyer in his opening statement.
The nine witnesses invited to testify by majority and minority Members of the Subcommittee were united in their support for the bill, which is primarily a compilation of policy reforms from previous housing reform bills.
Laura Burns of the National Leased Housing Association commended the bill’s streamlining of income and rent calculations. “While it does not seem like much, the time it takes to recertify tenants every year cannot be overstated. We appreciate that the Subcommittee recognizes that a seemingly small change can make a big difference,” Ms. Burns said. She also voiced support for the bill’s voucher unit inspection changes. The bill would allow tenants with vouchers to occupy their rental unit prior to inspection if the property had been inspected in the last 24 months. “Currently, it costs an apartment owner more to rent to a voucher holder than it does to rent to an unsubsidized resident. One of the reasons for this cost discrepancy is the program’s burdensome and often duplicative inspection standards,” Ms. Burns said.
Heather Bradley-Geary, a supportive housing developer with The Vecino Group in Missouri, specifically called out the bill’s improvements to the Family Unification Program (FUP). “The proposed legislation will allow us to make FUP a more effective housing resource available to young adults who have been involved with the foster care system,” Ms. Bradley-Geary said. “Particularly, the bill’s extension of the eligibility age for FUP vouchers that serve young adults leaving care from 21 to 24 years old, and the bill’s extension of rental assistance for youth receiving FUP vouchers from 18 to 36 months are good improvements.” Hilary Swab Gawrilow from the Corporation for Supportive Housing also testified in support of the bill’s provisions to allow public housing agencies to project-based Family Unification Program vouchers.
Evelyn Craig of reStart, Inc., a housing and supportive services agency in Kansas City, MO, agreed the bill’s FUP changes are important and also expressed support for the bill’s project-basing of vouchers provisions. “H.R. 3700 would significantly expand affordable and accessible permanent housing opportunities for families by allowing public housing agencies to use up to an additional 10% of authorized units for project-based assistance for households that meet the McKinney-Vento definition of homelessness,” Ms. Craig said.
Chris Polychron of the National Association of Realtors supported the bill’s changes to the Federal Housing Administration’s condominium policies for owners and lenders. He also supported the bill’s provisions to streamline the voucher program and ease participation for landlords. The bill’s inspection changes “will expedite tenancy and eliminate fiscal concerns while the unit remains vacant pending the inspection,” said Mr. Polychron.
Stephen Merritt from the Norwood Housing Authority (MA) represented the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials at the hearing. Mr. Merritt spoke in support of the bill’s provisions to increase the percentage of vouchers public housing agencies may project-base, to allow three-year income recertifications of families with fixed incomes, and to allow PHAs to offer payment standards up to 120% of Fair Market Rent as a reasonable accommodation for a person with a disability without having to seek a waiver, allowing PHAs to serve these households in a more timely fashion. “Together, these reforms will substantially reduce the workload associated with income verifications,” Mr. Merritt said.
Kevin Kelly, representing the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), stated that NAHB supports the bill’s “common sense approach to reduce the overlapping and redundant procedures that have made the Section 8 programs unnecessarily burdensome for tenants, private owners and public housing agencies.” Mr. Kelly also said that housing choice vouchers are critical in low income housing tax credit developments where many states are looking to target units to families with incomes below 50% of area median.
Will Fischer from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities noted the bill’s “particularly important improvements” in three areas: simplifying rules for setting tenant rent payments, streamlining housing quality inspections in the voucher program, and providing added flexibility to “project-base” vouchers. Mr. Fischer encouraged Congress “to extend the bill’s impact” by adding provisions to strengthen HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency program, and by “making the rental assistance admissions process fairer by limiting screening to criteria related to suitability as a tenant.”
View the hearing webinar and all testimony at: http://financialservices.house.gov/calendar/eventsingle.aspx?EventID=399751