NLIHC Submits Comments Criticizing Operations Notice on MTW Expansion

NLIHC conveyed fundamental opposition to the latest version of the proposed Moving to Work (MTW) Demonstration Program Operations Notice published for comment on October 11 (see Memo, 10/29). As drafted, the Operations Notice does not comply with the letter and spirit of the “Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016” that authorized HUD to expand the MTW demonstration to an additional 100 high-performing public housing agencies (PHAs) over a seven-year period.

Because the original 39 MTW PHAs were not subject to meaningful evaluation, Congress allowed for an expansion predicated on rigorous research to discern the impact of MTW waivers of statutory and regulatory provisions to be granted to the expansion PHAs. In addition to requiring each cohort of PHAs granted MTW status to carry out one specific policy change assigned by HUD, the 2016 Act allows PHAs to implement additional policy changes if approved by HUD. In addition, the Act states that “all agencies designated under this section shall be evaluated through rigorous research.” The revised proposed Operations Notice is contrary to the statute, because it would allow a PHA to impose a potentially harmful work requirement, time limit, and burdensome rent MTW Waiver without securing HUD approval and without the rigorous evaluation called for by the statute. NLIHC stated that such waivers should only be allowed as part of a rigorous cohort evaluation.

The Notice Appendix includes “safe harbors” that identify additional requirements a PHA must follow in order to carry out MTW activities without needing HUD approval. Most of the MTW Waivers have these “safe harbors,” apparently to mitigate or preclude any adverse impacts on residents. In most situations, the safe harbor merely requires a PHA to implement a “hardship policy” and conduct an “impact analysis.” There are serious limitations to the direction HUD provides to PHAs regarding hardship policies and impact analyses. Elderly and disabled people are exempt from many of the MTW Waivers but are not shielded from other potentially harmful MTW Waivers.

Because MTW was intended as a demonstration program, Congress sought to determine how granting PHAs statutory and regulatory flexibilities might reduce costs, foster family self-sufficiency, and increase residents’ housing choice – the three statutory objectives. Imposing time limits and/or rent cost burdens on households, however, does nothing to foster self-sufficiency or augment housing choice. The presumption that imposing work requirements might lead to greater self-sufficiency is questionable because an array of external factors in the labor market could present insurmountable obstacles to work, and taking away a stable, affordable home from someone could make it impossible for that individual to secure and maintain steady employment.

The draft Operations Notice from 2017 had a provision requiring an MTW PHA to spend at least 90% of its annual voucher budget authority on eligible housing assistance payment (HAP) expenses each year. The 2018 proposed Operations Notice eliminates the 90% rule. That could mean less affordable housing assistance for households that desperately need it, and waiting lists for assistance could become even longer. The final Operations Notice must restore the 90% rule.

NLIHC’s comment letter is at:

More about the public housing program is on page 4-8 of NLIHC’s 2018 Advocates’ Guide.

More about the Housing Choice Voucher program is on page 4-30 of NLIHC’s 2018 Advocates’ Guide.