On February 14, Congress and the White House reached a final deal to fund the federal government for the remainder of FY19. In late December, President Trump and congressional leaders had failed to enact several spending bills for FY19 – including funding for affordable housing and community development programs – which led to the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history. While leaders reached an agreement to reopen the government for three weeks, they were quickly approaching the new deadline of February 15 when congressional leaders finally reached a deal on a bipartisan spending package, including the Transportation-HUD and USDA spending bills that had previously been negotiated between the House and Senate. The Senate passed the spending package by a vote of 86-16 on February 14, and the House approved the measure on a 300-128 vote later that day. President Trump signed the bill into law on February 15.
Overall, the bill provides HUD programs with more than $12 billion above the president’s request. The spending package builds on the 10% increase in HUD funding that advocates and congressional champions secured in FY18 by providing $1.5 billion in new resources in FY19. In doing so, Congress has clearly rejected the calls to drastically cut housing investments proposed by the White House.
This spending package rejects the rent policy changes proposed by the Trump administration that would have given HUD the authority to increase financial burdens on current and future tenants of HUD-assisted housing. The Trump administration had proposed providing the HUD secretary the authority to: increase a tenant’s rent contributions from the current standard of 30% of their adjusted income to 35% of their gross income; eliminate income deductions for childcare and medical expenses; triple the minimum monthly rent for tenants living in severe poverty to $150; and allow housing providers to impose rigid work requirements. NLIHC and others will continue to monitor closely any other efforts to impose punitive measures that would jeopardize family stability and increase the financial burdens on low-income tenants.
Additionally, compared to FY18, the negotiated package increases funding for tenant-based rental assistance, public housing, project-based rental assistance, and homeless assistance grants. Advocates believe the spending package provides enough funding to renew all existing rental assistance contracts for both vouchers and project-based rental assistance and includes additional resources to provide an estimated 7,600 new vouchers to veterans and youth aging out of the foster care system. The bill also provides enough funding to renew all contracts for Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities and Section 202 Housing for the Elderly.
The spending package also includes $25 million for a mobility housing voucher demonstration for families with young children to help them move to areas of opportunity. The bill does not include an amendment introduced by former Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) that would have prohibited people charged with certain crimes from receiving housing assistance. NLIHC and other advocates voiced concerns about how this provision would have been implemented.
This successful outcome is due to the hard work of advocates across the nation and strong Congressional champions, including Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) – the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittees.
Hours before this Tenant Talk went to print, President Trump released his FY20 budget request. Like his other budgets in FY18 and FY19, the proposal would reduce housing benefits for the lowest-income people by slashing federal investments in affordable homes, increasing rents, and imposing harmful work requirements. Overall, the administration proposes to cut HUD by an astounding $9.6 billion or 18% below 2019 enacted levels. NLIHC strongly urges Congress to reject Mr. Trump’s budget and to significantly expand the investments in affordable homes that America’s families and communities need to thrive.
2020 Presidential Candidates Introduce Bold Housing Proposals
Although the next presidential election is nearly two years away, several high-ranking members of Congress have announced—or are expected to announce—their decision to run for higher office, and some have also introduced bold housing proposals.
Three months before Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) announced her decision to run for president on December 31, 2018, she introduced the “American Housing and Economic Mobility Act.” This bold and broad affordable housing bill would address the underlying cause of the affordable housing crisis—the severe shortage of affordable rental homes for people with the lowest incomes—by investing $445 billion over 10 years in the national Housing Trust Fund. The bill also expands protections under the Fair Housing Act by banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, and source of income. The bill includes investments in rural and tribal housing, and a number of other provisions. NLIHC endorsed the bill, which was also introduced in the House by Congressmembers Cedric Richmond (D-LA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and Elijah Cummings (D-MD).
More recently, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) announced her decision to run for president on January 21, nearly six months after she introduced major housing legislation known as the “Rent Relief Act.” The bill would create a new refundable tax credit to bridge the gap between what households can afford to pay in rent and their rental costs.
Presidential candidate Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) has also introduced the “Housing, Opportunity, Mobility, and Equity (HOME) Act.” If enacted, these housing tax credit bills would eliminate housing cost burdens for millions of households who today are forced to make impossible choices between paying rent and buying groceries, visiting their doctor, or saving for a rainy day. (Senator Booker’s bill would also require states and local communities to develop new inclusive zoning policies, programs, or regulatory initiatives to create more affordable housing supply.)
As more presidential candidates throw their hats into the ring, NLIHC will continue to urge them to make housing for the lowest income people a key pillar of their platforms.
Update: Disaster Recovery & Affordable Housing
Mexico Beach Florida after Hurricane Michael. Photo: Gladys Cook, Florida Housing Coalition
Last year’s disasters caused enormous damage. The Camp Fire in Northern California destroyed or damaged 12,000 homes in an area already experiencing an extreme shortage of affordable housing. Hurricane Michael left up to 20,000 people homeless in the Florida Panhandle, and the huge amounts of rain and heavy winds from Hurricane Florence harmed tens of thousands of homes in the Carolinas. While the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does provide some housing assistance after a disaster, the response has not been able to meet survivors’ urgent housing needs.
Members of the NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) in both Florida and California report that months after the storm, hundreds of people remain living in tents, shelters, cars, or in the overcrowded homes of friends or family. FEMA has provided some survivors with rental assistance, money to stay in motels, or trailers, and the agency continues to search for additional places to hook up trailers to plumbing and electricity. However, the process has been slow, and FEMA has refused to utilize the Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP)—a crucial tool for providing stable homes that was successfully used after Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy. Like after other disasters, the lack of housing options has forced many people into unsafe and unsanitary conditions or to relocate.
Renters impacted by Hurricanes Florence and Michael have also faced the threat of evictions. Some landlords of federally-assisted properties issued eviction notices to tenants, giving residents as little as three days to leave. DHRC partners in these areas have worked tirelessly to ensure evictions are valid, tenants have time and resources to find new housing, and they have the right to return to their unit once repairs are finished.
The most recent disasters demonstrate the great need for additional affordable housing and more equitable disaster response and recovery systems. NLIHC and the DHRC will continue to push for legislation that ensures the lowest-income disaster survivors have the accessible, safe, and affordable homes necessary to recover.