CHANGING DIRECTION: WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF PUBLIC HOUSING?
Making public housing a strong program that addresses the affordability and accessibility needs of low-income renters will require a big shift in public policy. Such a shift will require major advocacy campaigns by residents, advocates, and other allies. Fortunately, several federal policy makers are beginning to take notice, recognizing public housing as a permanent source of deeply affordable housing and proposing to not just restore the Public Housing Capital Fund, but to expand public housing for the first time in decades.
Moving forward, advocates should focus on the following:
Action Items to Protect and Expand Public Housing
$70 Billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund
The Public Housing Capital Fund is the funding PHAs use for maintaining and repairing public housing. Advocates should tell their legislators to fund the capital budget adequately by including it in any infrastructure package that may be undertaken and by supporting legislation that provides $70 billion to meet the cost of estimated repair backlogs, which grow at a rate of $3.4 billion per year. Significantly increasing funding to the capital budget would help preserve the public housing stock for current tenants and future generations.
Repeal the Faircloth Amendment
The Faircloth Amendment prohibits new public housing to be built if it results in a net increase to a PHA’s overall stock of housing. In other words, HUD cannot create new public housing units unless the agency demolishes or disposes of (sells) other units. Repealing this amendment would allow for the first expansion of public housing to occur in decades, increasing the supply of homes available to extremely low income (ELI) renters.
Establish a Private Right of Action for RAD Compliance
A common criticism of HUD’s enforcement of housing contracts is that tenants are not empowered to make HUD honor contract rules. The tenant protections included in RAD that were won by the Resident Engagement Group are strong. But what if those tenant protections are being ignored? Renters need to be able to take PHAs to court for violating essential tenant protections through what is known as a “private right of action.” Legislators should pass a law empowering public housing tenants to hold HUD accountable to following the terms of their contracts.
Despite public housing’s racist and segregationist beginnings and uncertain present, the program remains popular among its residents. While there are many challenges facing the program, public housing is good policy. It maintains permanent, deeply affordable housing independent of the uncertainties of the private market. Public housing is a socially just program providing safe, affordable homes for people with the lowest incomes.