The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on June 9 titled “Universal Vouchers: Ending Homelessness and Expanding Economic Opportunity in America.” The hearing addressed the need to make Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV) universally available. Witnesses offered testimony and answered questions about the need for universal housing vouchers and source-of-income (SOI) protections for voucher holders; improvements to the HCV program; and investments in affordable housing supply. The panel addressed how expanding rental assistance to every eligible household would help end homelessness and address racial disparities in housing and homelessness.
Witnesses included Ann Oliva, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policies Priorities; Mary Cunningham, senior fellow and vice president of Metropolitan Housing and Communities at the Urban Institute; Benjamin Metcalf, managing director at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation; Chancela Al-Mansour, executive director of the Housing Rights Center; and Howard Husock, adjunct scholar of domestic policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
In her opening testimony, Ms. Oliva stated: “Expanding the Housing Choice Voucher program to provide a voucher to every eligible household is the single most important step we can take to address the homelessness crisis. . . . This step would fundamentally alter the landscape for people experiencing homelessness, institutionalization, and housing instability, ultimately preventing many stints of homelessness because households with low-incomes would be able to afford housing and, thus, would be less likely to fall behind on rent and face eviction.”
She expressed gratitude to Chairwoman Waters and Representatives Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) and Ritchie Torres (D-NY) for their work on the “Ending Homelessness Act,” highlighting that the bill provides a comprehensive approach to ending homelessness by addressing housing affordability and supply, providing critical resources to homeless systems, and enacting needed protections for voucher holders. The Ending Homelessness Act proposes to establish a universal voucher program to ensure every eligible household can receive rental assistance, bans source-of-income discrimination, increases housing choice, and invests $5 billion over 5 years in the national Housing Trust Fund to address the shortage of affordable housing and to combat homelessness. See NLIHC’s fact sheet for more information.
In response to concerns about landlord participation in the HCV program, witnesses explained solutions to this challenge. Panelists described the need for national SOI protections to end landlord discrimination against voucher holders and offered solutions for increasing landlord participation, including small area fair market rents, improved inspection process, and other flexibility and incentives.
Asked about the connection between universal housing vouchers and racial justice, Mary Cunningham stated that “housing vouchers are one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox to address racial disparities in homelessness and among renters.” Chancela Al-Mansour discussed in her testimony how Section 8 discrimination disproportionately harms Latino and African American families, limiting housing choice for these households and perpetuating segregation. Al-Mansour highlighted the need to pair the expansion of housing vouchers with robust tenant protections and increased enforcement of fair housing protections.
Representative Jesús “Chuy” García (D-IL) emphasized the need for policy change: “We need to break the brutal cycle of disinvestment, displacement, and homelessness. We need to build back better and that means policies that recognize that housing is a human right.” He continued, “In the richest country on earth, every human being should have a roof over their head. Our current housing policies simply don’t meet the need.” “The best path to housing as human right, to housing as an entitlement, is housing vouchers for all,” stated Representative Ritchie Torres (D-NY), who recently released a draft bill to create a national stabilization fund to provide short-term emergency rental assistance to the lowest-income renters, funded at $3 billion annually. He will soon formally introduce his “Stable Families Act.”
At the end of the hearing, Chairwoman Waters submitted into the record NLIHC’s national letter signed by nearly 1,000 organizations in support of universal housing vouchers.
Watch a recording of the hearing at: https://youtu.be/WPIWWZgjzxA
Read a discussion draft of the “Ending Homelessness Act” at: https://bit.ly/3gqDfSZ
NLIHC’s fact sheet on the “Ending Homelessness Act” is available at: https://bit.ly/2SuQLx9
Read a discussion draft of the “Stable Families Act” at: https://bit.ly/3xhUCfR