Federal Spending Updates
Congress and the president finalized on December 20, 2019, the funding levels for fiscal year (FY) 2020, which began on October 1. They passed several temporary spending bills, known as continuing resolutions, to prevent a government shutdown before the final agreement. The final deal provides affordable housing and community development programs with more than $12 billion above President Trump’s request, which had called for dramatic cuts.
The final FY20 spending bill provides enough funding to renew all existing rental assistance contracts for both vouchers and project-based rental assistance. Congress modestly increased resources for PHAs to make critical repairs to public housing, including new competitive funds to reduce lead-based paint and other health hazards, such as mold and carbon monoxide poisoning. The bill also provides enough funding to build new homes under the Housing for Persons with Disabilities (Section 811) and Housing for the Elderly (Section 202) programs. As in 2019, Congress included $25 million for a mobility housing voucher demonstration to help families with young children move to areas of opportunity.
This successful outcome is the result of the hard work of advocates across the country 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) who lead the subcommittees that oversee funding for HUD.
Congress and the president reached an agreement last summer on overall spending levels for FY21 as well. Under the deal, Congress will have only about $5 billion more for all non-defense programs than in FY20. Because the cost of housing and development programs are tied to rents and other rates that rise each year, funding needs to increase to ensure no one loses assistance. Costs to renew existing contracts for vouchers and project-based rental assistance alone require an increase of more than $1 billion each year. Since the money available for many competing priorities is relatively small, advocates need to make sure their members of Congress understand the importance of affordable housing programs and why they require increased funding every year.
The process for FY21 began when the president released his budget request in February. Once again, he proposed cutting or eliminating funding for key programs as well as raising rents for people living in subsidized housing. The president’s budget is only a recommendation to Congress; under this administration, Congress has largely chosen to ignore his requests. Stay up to date on the budget process by checking out NLIHC’s federal budget page at: https://nlihc.org/federal-budget-and-spending. NLIHC encourages advocates to oppose cuts and advocate for increased resources during the Our Homes, Our Voices National Housing Week of Action, May 2–12.
New Bills Aim to Improve and Expand Public Housing
The last of issue of Tenant Talk described how years of federal disinvestment in public housing has decreased the quantity and quality of the public housing stock. Several members of Congress have recognized the important role public housing plays in addressing the affordable housing crisis. Four bold new bills would improve living conditions for public housing residents and increase the supply of accessible, affordable, and decent homes.
Representative Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and 13 other Democrats introduced the “Public Housing Emergency Response Act” (H.R. 4546) on September 27, 2019. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and four other senators introduced an identical bill (S. 3212) in the Senate on January 16, 2020. The bill would provide an additional $70 billion for HUD’s Public Housing Capital Fund, allowing PHAs to repair and renovate homes. Approximately $32 billion of this funding would be reserved for the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), the nation’s largest PHA. In the spring of 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) declared NYCHA was in a “state of emergency” due to the severely deteriorating conditions of its properties.
Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced the “Green New Deal for Public Housing Act” (S.2876/H.R. 5185) on November 14, 2019. This bill would create new HUD grant programs to renovate and upgrade public housing to decrease health hazards and improve energy-efficiency. The bill would move public housing toward renewable energy sources and provide job opportunities and workforce development, including through improvements to HUD’s Section 3 obligation to hire public housing and other low-income residents.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) introduced the “Homes for All Act” (H.R. 5244) on December 5, 2019, which would invest $1 trillion to create 8.5 million new public housing apartments. An additional 2.5 million deeply affordable rental homes would be built through the national Housing Trust Fund, which funds the construction and rehabilitation of homes for the lowest-income households. The bill would also repeal the Faircloth Amendment, which currently bans the creation of new public housing stock, and would provide full, consistent funding for public housing in the future. The bill would also bar PHAs from “repositioning” the public housing stock. Repositioning entails demolishing, selling, or converting the housing to project-based rental assistance. Representative Omar’s plan would not allow public housing agencies to deny housing to someone based on their criminal history or immigration status and would create a new program to help local governments combat gentrification and neighborhood destabilization.
Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced the “Averting Crises in Housing Assistance Act” (S.3088) on December 18, 2019. The bill would require HUD and PHAs to create a plan of action to address poor living conditions in public housing. Congress would invest $70 billion in the Public Housing Capital Fund to help HUD make needed repairs. Additionally, public housing residents would be able to request HUD step in if buildings pass inspection even though conditions are unsatisfactory. Residents would be allowed to bring a private “right of action,” or a lawsuit, against the federal government if building conditions are not improved within a year after a PHA’s revitalization plan of action is finalized. This is something that was specified in the last Tenant Talk as a necessary improvement for public housing residents.
The “Eviction Crisis Act” Promises New Resources and Better Data
Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and Todd Young (R-IN), introduced on December 12, 2019 the “Eviction Crisis Act” (S.3030), which creates new tools to help end the nation’s eviction epidemic. Among various other promising provisions, the legislation includes the creation of an Emergency Assistance Fund to help low-income households facing housing instability due to an unexpected economic shock. This policy solution was developed and championed by NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, which worked closely with the bill’s sponsors.
This bipartisan bill would create a program to fund state and local governments to expand the use of landlord-tenant community courts and increase the presence of social services representatives for tenants. These funds will promote and enable mediation and help both tenants and landlords avoid the high costs of eviction. The bill also creates a national database to standardize data and track evictions to help policymakers design programs to better serve people needing assistance. The bill would give tenants the opportunity to contest and correct inaccurate or incomplete information on tenant screening reports and would require that, when a court rules in favor of a tenant in an eviction proceeding, those judgments and eviction filings be removed from tenant screening reports.
The Emergency Assistance Fund would provide direct financial assistance and stability services to help people remain stably housed during an unforeseen economic shock. Most families in poverty who rent spend at least half of their incomes on housing, leaving virtually no margin for an unexpected expense. A broken-down car, unreimbursed medical bill, or temporary decline of income can send a household down the spiral of housing instability, eviction, and homelessness. At least three-fourths of the dollars must be used to provide direct financial assistance and up to one-fourth can be used for wrap-around services, such as counseling.
The “Eviction Crisis Act” is an historic effort to tackle the devastating impacts of evictions on individuals and families and provide cost-effective eviction prevention options. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign has called on Congress to quickly enact this bipartisan bill and encourages advocates to send letters to your federal elected officials urging them to support it: https://www.opportunityhome.org/take-action/
Democrats and Republicans Work Together to Introduce “Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act”
Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Todd Young (R-IN) introduced the “Family Stability and Opportunity Vouchers Act” (S.3083) on December 18, 2019. The bill would create an additional 500,000 housing vouchers for low-income families with young children to help them access neighborhoods of opportunity with high-performing schools, strong job prospects, and other resources. The bill could largely eliminate homelessness among families with young children and substantially reduce the number of children growing up in areas of concentrated poverty. This policy solution has also been championed by NLIHC’s Opportunity Starts at Home campaign, which worked with the bill’s sponsors on the legislation.
The bill prioritizes these new vouchers for low-income pregnant women and families with children under age 6 who have a recent history of homelessness or housing instability or live in areas of concentrated poverty or who are at risk of being displaced from an opportunity area. The vouchers, which would be coupled with counseling and services to support parents, would be phased in over five years at 100,000 per year.
Research shows that when children in low-income families grow up in neighborhoods with low poverty, quality schools, and low crime, they are significantly more likely to attend college and earn dramatically more as adults over their lifetimes - breaking cycles of generational poverty and producing a positive taxpayer return. Research also shows low-income students perform better academically and close achievement gaps faster when housing assistance enables them to live stably in opportunity neighborhoods with lower-poverty schools.
This bill is another significant bipartisan effort that, if enacted, would dramatically improve the life trajectories of low-income children. The Opportunity Starts at Home campaign has called on Congress to quickly enact the legislation and urges advocates to send letters to your federal elected officials urging them to support it: https://www.opportunityhome.org/take-action/
UPDATE: Disaster Recovery & Affordable Housing
More than two years after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, thousands are still forced to live in damaged houses under blue-tarp roofs due to delays in federal funding and a complex aid application process that has prevented many disaster survivors from receiving assistance. The situation has been further complicated by deadly earthquakes that rocked the island in January, forcing thousands of people in the south of the island to flee their damaged homes and sleep in cars or parks to avoid injury from falling rubble. While emergency services from FEMA and the territorial government have been activated, it is still unclear how long the earthquake recovery will take.
As FEMA’s efforts in Puerto Rico ramp up again, HUD relented to increasing pressure from grassroots organizations and congressional leaders and withdrew its hold on hurricane relief and mitigation funding approved by Congress nearly two years ago. HUD did, however, place burdensome restrictions that must be met before the funds are used. The restrictions require the territorial government to make substantial changes to local property laws, pay recovery construction workers below $15 an hour, and submit recovery plans to a federal financial oversight board. The NLIHC-led Disaster Housing Recovery Coalition (DHRC) and its Puerto Rico Working Group will continue to monitor the situation and work to ensure the funds are released without further delays and low-income disaster survivors are able to recover.
The DHRC also advocates in Congress for a recovery system that responds quickly to disasters and ensures low-income renters receive the assistance they need. One of those measures, the “Reforming Disaster Recovery Act,” was passed by the House of Representatives in a bipartisan vote last fall. Introduced by Representatives Al Green (D-TX) and Ann Wagner (R-MO), the bill permanently authorizes the Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program and incorporates most of the DHRC’s recommendations to improve the program.
Administered by HUD, CDBG-DR provides states and communities with flexible, long-term recovery resources to rebuild affordable housing and infrastructure after a disaster. By authorizing the program, the bill would help ensure consistently run recovery programs and ensure that dollars can flow more quickly to communities. The bill also establishes important safeguards and tools to ensure federal recovery efforts reach all impacted households, including those with the lowest-incomes who often suffer the most from disasters and have the fewest resources to recover afterward.