An Overview of Representative Dennis Ross’s Bill to Cut Housing Benefits:
Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL) has released a draft bill that would cut housing benefits that help low income families afford to keep roofs over their heads. The bill could increase rents on millions of low income families who receive housing benefits. If passed, the bill would leave even more low income people—including seniors, people with disabilities, veterans, children, and other vulnerable populations—without stable homes, making it harder for them to climb the economic ladder and live with dignity. This could lead to increased evictions, and in worst cases, homelessness.
Because people receiving federal housing assistance already pay their fair share (at least 30 percent of income), rent increases would force them to spend less money on basic needs like medicine or food and would put them at increased risk of eviction and homelessness.
Rep. Ross’s bill proposes several different rent structures public housing agencies (PHAs) could implement—all of which would raise rents for the poorest families. HUD is already testing some of these policies through its rent-reform demonstration and is planning evaluations of others through the recent expansion of the Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration. Congress should not make a shift in longstanding federal rent policies before the results of these evaluations are available.
Representative Ross’s bill would:
Eliminate income deductions for medical or childcare expenses. Currently, most families receiving federal housing assistance pay 30 percent of their adjusted income as rent. Under the proposal, households could instead have to pay 30 percent of their gross income. HUD could impose this policy change on households headed by seniors or people with disabilities regardless of the rent options local PHAs choose. Basing families’ contributions on gross income particularly hurts households with high medical or child care expenses by eliminating deductions for these expenses, but virtually all seniors, people with disabilities and families with children would pay more if rent is based on gross income. The proposal would also increase the minimum rent from $50 to $75, even if this is more than 30% of a resident’s income.
Allow rents to balloon substantially beyond what families can afford. Under the “tiered rent” policy proposed by the bill, rents could increase substantially. Poor families could be charged a minimum of more than $500, ten times the minimum rent they can be charged today and far more than 30 percent of most extremely low income families’ income. In addition, rents could increase by as much as several hundred dollars a month when a tenant’s income exceeds the initial “income cliff.” Estimates show that the average rent increase would be more than $200 at the income cliff.
Impose a de facto time limit on affordable housing benefits. Under the “stepped rent” component of the proposal, tenants could see their housing benefits decrease and rents increase every two years, even if it requires them to pay more than their fair share and regardless of their ability to pay. Similar to the “tiered rent” policy, this option would immediately raise rents substantially on the lowest income people, continuing to increase their rent payments every two years based on local housing costs and regardless of their income. Eventually, low income tenants would receive zero housing benefits. Such a system would establish a de facto time limit that would have serious negative consequences, including preventing housing assistance programs from providing continuing assistance to families that work but don’t earn enough to afford market rents, and placing some tenants at risk of eviction and homelessness.
Give authority to PHAs to change rent policies, without protections for residents. The bill also allows PHAs to establish other rent policies with little oversight from HUD. Under the bill, a PHA’s proposal to change its rent-setting policy would be considered accepted if HUD does not disapprove the policy in 90 days. The bill does not provide any details on how PHAs must ensure residents have adequate protections when implementing a new rent policy.
Allow PHAs to provide significantly less assistance to families in need. Instead of covering the full amount a family needs to maintain adequate housing, the bill would permit PHAs to use 40 percent of their funding for housing vouchers to offer “shallow” housing benefits across more families—less than half the current level. While supporters claim this model would serve more families, it could so dilute housing benefits that families could not achieve housing stability or have a real opportunity to live in higher-opportunity neighborhoods. The proposal claims that the reduced subsidies would be optional for families on waiting lists for assistance. But these families who may be homeless or living in unsafe, unstable housing arrangements could face pressure to accept. If they didn’t, other families would jump past them on the waiting list. Federal housing benefits are already chronically underfunded; three out of four families in need are turned away. This proposal would divert scarce resources away from people most in need and potentially undermine the proven effectiveness of housing vouchers in preventing homelessness.
Make it harder for families to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods. Currently, around 2,200 PHAs administer the nation’s 2.2 million housing vouchers. Voucher holders trying to move from one agency’s jurisdiction to another (including to move to high-opportunity neighborhoods) would have to navigate a patchwork of local rent polices to figure out if they can afford to move.
Make funding cuts more likely. In addition to undermining the proven effectiveness of federal rental assistance programs, allowing PHAs to substantially increase tenants’ rent payments could be used to make the case for future funding cuts. All PHAs—and all households they assist—could be much worse off, regardless of the choices individual PHAs and communities make.
An Overview of Representative Turner’s Bill Related to Foster-Care Youth
The House Financial Services Committee passed, on a party-line vote, Representative Mike Turner’s (R-OH) “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2017” (HR 2069) on July 24. The bill aims to provide housing assistance to youth aging out of the foster system, but it provides no additional resources to do so. Instead, the bill imposes work requirements and other burdens on youth as a condition for receiving housing assistance, the first time ever for individuals who rely on such assistance. The bill will now head to the House floor for a vote, where it needs to be approved only by a simple majority. While the bill is more likely to pass the House, it faces more opposition in the Senate, where it would need 60 votes to pass.
The bill directs public housing agencies to impose a combination of education and training or self-sufficiency requirements on youth aging out of the foster care system as a condition of receiving housing assistance. While the bill no longer expressly requires youth to work a set number of hours each week to maintain their housing assistance, the HUD Secretary would have the authority to establish hourly education and training requirements through regulation.
As an alternative to imposing education and training requirements, public housing agencies would be required under the bill to make participation in HUD’s Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) programs mandatory for youth as a condition of receiving housing assistance.
Whether through education and training requirements or mandatory FSS participation, the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act” puts youth unable to meet these standards at risk of losing housing benefits that make it possible for them to live in stable, affordable homes and find and maintain work.
Federal Budget Updates
Each year, Congress must pass twelve spending bills to fund federal agencies and programs. The process has already begun for the current fiscal year (FY 2019), which began October 1, 2018. Both the Senate and the House have introduced their versions of the spending bills that fund HUD, but only the Senate has passed their proposal. Instead, Congress passed a temporary funding bill, known as a continuing resolution, to keep the government running through December 7. The continuing resolution gives Congress more time to enact final spending bills.
Earlier this year, Congress agreed to lift spending caps that had significantly decreased funding for affordable housing, community development, and other critical programs. This agreement allowed Congress to increase funding for HUD in the last fiscal year (FY 2018) by 10% from the previous year. Both the House and Senate versions of the new FY 2019 spending bills build on this increase, although the Senate version provides $1 billion more than the House proposal. Both plans reject the deep cuts proposed by the White House and certain members of Congress.
The House and Senate bills contain different levels of funding for HUD programs. The Senate bill fully funds all existing Housing Choice Vouchers and Project-Based Rental Assistance and provides new vouchers for veterans and youth aging out of foster care. In contrast, the House bill does not include enough funding for existing contracts of these rental assistance programs, which could result in fewer families receiving housing assistance. The House did include $50 million for a mobility-voucher pilot program that would help families with young children move to neighborhoods with better schools, lower rates of crime and poverty, and additional economic opportunities. The two bills also contain differences on funding levels for Section 811 mainstream vouchers (for non-elderly persons with disabilities), public housing, Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS (HOPWA), housing for the elderly (Section 202), and several community development grant programs. Both bills have positive aspects, and NLIHC and other advocates will continue working with Congress to ensure rental assistance, public housing, and other important programs have the highest levels of funding possible.
NLIHC and other advocates are also watching for harmful policy riders. Although spending bills are supposed to only contain language on funding, many members of Congress will try to attach other language – known as policy riders – that push certain policies. Some of these policy riders are helpful, such as ensuring people cannot lose their housing because they are survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault. Others can be extremely harmful, like prohibiting HUD from implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Rule.
As Congress moves forward in this process and the House and Senate come to an agreement on the differences between their two bills, advocates across the country will need to engage with their members of Congress to push for the highest spending levels possible and help protect and promote affordable housing.
Disaster Housing Recovery Updates
NLIHC’s Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition works to ensure that all families impacted by recent disasters, including Hurricane Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Florence receive the housing assistance they need and deserve. Unfortunately, since the hurricanes made landfall in 2017 and 2018, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has neglected the housing needs of thousands of survivors by refusing to make available long-term housing recovery resources, including the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP).
DHAP was created after the hard-won lessons from Hurricane Katrina, and the program has been used successfully in major disasters since that time. Under DHAP, families displaced by disasters receive longer-term rental assistance and case management services to help them find permanent, affordable homes, maintain employment, and connect to other public benefits. The program has been upheld as a best practice by past Republican and Democratic administrations.
DHAP has been requested by governors, members of Congress, advocates, and survivors, but FEMA refuses to implement it.
Instead, FEMA has relied on its Transitional Shelter Assistance program, which helps cover the costs for survivors to stay in motels and is poorly designed to help families with the lowest incomes. Participating motels often charge survivors daily fees or require survivors to have credit cards or put down security deposits – all of which can act as barriers for low income households. More recently, FEMA abruptly ended its TSA program for Puerto Rican disaster survivors,regardless of whether the survivors living in the motels had nowhere to go. FEMA has also relied on state-run disaster recovery programs, which have experienced significant delays.
Because of FEMA’s neglect, thousands of families have had no choice but to double or triple up with other low income families, return to unsafe and unhealthy homes, sleep in cars, or pay more than half of their limited income on rent, putting them at risk of evictions and, in worst cases, homelessness. There are already accounts of individuals displaced by the 2017 disasters who have been referred to state emergency homeless assistance programs as a result of FEMA’s failure to address longer-term housing needs.
NLIHC president and CEO Diane Yentel stated, “It is unacceptable that FEMA is choosing to retraumatize these U.S. citizens and put them at increased risk of homelessness. Congress must hold the administration accountable by requiring FEMA to provide families with the proven longer-term disaster housing assistance that has been used to help survivors get back on their feet after other past disasters.”
Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) introduced S. 2880, the ‘‘Disaster Housing Assistance Act,” and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Adriano Espaillat (D-NY) introduced S. 2996 and H.R. 5474, the “Housing Victims of 5 Major Disasters Act of 2018.” Both bills would immediately make available DHAP to low income survivors. Advocates can help disaster survivors by calling their members of Congress and urging them to cosponsor the bills.
Protecting Tenants of Foreclosure Act
President Trump signed into law a permanent extension of the “Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act” (PTFA) on May 24. The PTFA, which expired at the end of 2014, enables renters whose homes were in foreclosure to remain in their homes for at least 90 days or for the term of their lease, whichever is greater. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) had earlier introduced legislation (S. 325/HR 915) to permanently extend the PTFA. Making the PTFA permanent has long been an NLIHC policy priority.
The PTFA, enacted in 2009 with significant NLIHC input, was the only federal protection for renters living in foreclosed properties. During the financial crisis, inappropriate lending, falling home prices, and high unemployment led to a high number of foreclosures across the U.S. The impact of these foreclosures was not limited to homeowners, however; renters lost their homes every day when the owner of the home they were renting went into foreclosure. Unlike homeowners who have some indication that a foreclosure is coming, renters are often caught entirely off guard.
"The PTFA provides most renters with the right to at least 90 days’ notice before being required to move after a foreclosure. Before the permanent extension, renters, who often have no idea that their landlords are behind on mortgage payments, could be evicted with just a few days’ notice in most states."
The PTFA provides most renters with the right to at least 90 days’ notice before being required to move after a foreclosure. Before the permanent extension, renters, who often have no idea that their landlords are behind on mortgage payments, could be evicted with just a few days’ notice in most states.
Under PTFA, tenants with Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher assistance have additional protections allowing them to retain their Section 8 lease and requiring the successor-in-interest to assume the housing assistance payment contract associated with that lease.
The PTFA applies to all foreclosures on all residential properties; traditional one-unit single family homes are covered, as are multi-unit properties. The law applies in cases of both judicial and nonjudicial foreclosures. Tenants with lease rights of any kind, including month-to-month leases or leases terminable at will, are protected as long as the tenancy is in effect as of the date of transfer of title at foreclosure.
The PTFA applies in all states but does not override more protective state laws.
HUD Withdraws Proposed Demolition/Disposition Rule
HUD, under Secretary Ben Carson, took two actions that could weaken protections for public housing residents when their public housing agency (PHA) seeks to demolish or dispose of (sell) their development.
First, HUD withdrew a proposed rule that could have provided better resident protections from PHA abuses in the demolition/disposition application and implementation process. Advocates worked for years to secure the protections in the proposed rule.
The proposed rule would have:
- Provided guidance to ensure there is more effective resident feedback.
- Explicitly stated that HUD would not consider an application unless it included all of the significant information required for residents to be fully informed.
- Clearly stated that demolition or disposition is a Significant Amendment to the PHA Plan. It would also have required a PHA to certify that it included proposed demolition or disposition in its PHA Plan or Significant Amendment in order to ensure involvement by the Resident Advisory Board, energetic outreach to residents and the public, and a public hearing.
- Strengthened the notice that must be provided to residents who would be relocated.
- Added civil rights requirements.
The second harmful action was withdrawing Notice PIH 2012-07, written in 2012 as a result of persistent efforts by advocates. That Notice purposely served as a reminder to residents, the public, and PHAs of PHAs’ obligations regarding resident involvement and the role of the PHA Plan under demolition/disposition and PHA Plan regulations. The replacement Notice PIH 2018-04 significantly downplays the role of resident consultation, the PHA Plan, and other resident-oriented features.
 The bill would not change rent policies in the Section 8 Project-based Rental Assistance program, except for former public housing properties that converted to PBRA under the Rental Assistance Demonstration.
 The bill would also allow HUD to set rents higher than 30 percent of gross income for seniors and people with disabilities.