Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Subcommittee Holds Hearing on Preserving and Improving Federally Assisted Housing

The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs (BHUA) Committee Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development on July 20 held a hybrid hearing titled “Safe at Home: Preserving and Improving Federally Assisted Housing.” The hearing addressed health and safety risks that exist in federally assisted housing, including lead, radon, mold, fire hazards, lack of safety equipment, overcrowding, and the effects of unsafe homes on families and children. Members of the subcommittee and panelists described how COVID-19 has exacerbated these issues and discussed the legislation and funding needed to adequately address them.

Witnesses included Dave Jacobs, chief scientist at the National Center for Healthy Housing; Jennifer Keogh, deputy director of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority; and Sharon Vogel, executive director of the Cheyenne River Housing Authority, chairwoman of the United Native American Housing Association and NLIHC board member.

In Chairwoman Tina Smith’s (D-MN) opening statement spoke about a fire that led to the death of five residents in a 25-story public housing complex that had no fire sprinklers. Shortly after the incident, Chair Smith introduced the “Public Housing Fire Safety Act” (see Memo, 12/18/2019), which was reintroduced recently in both the House and Senate (see Memo, 04/19). “These health and safety risks are not limited to public housing and federally-assisted housing alone,” she said. “But the federal government has a special obligation to make sure that homes supported by or funded by taxpayers are safe and free of known hazards. And I hope that this hearing will raise awareness for all Americans about these health and safety risks.”

Ranking Member Mike Rounds (R-SD) stated that while a lack of resources can be seen as a primary issue in federally assisted homes safety, he believes there are efficiency issues at the agency levels that need to be addressed before additional funding is allocated. Ranking Member Rounds, who represents a state with a significant share of Native Americans, also shared his concerns on the state of Native American housing: “According to the National American Indian Housing Council, 40% of on-reservation housing is inadequate, a fact that is unmistakable to me every time I drive through a reservation back home and see many of the homes boarded up and unfit for us,” he stated. The ranking member said that one of the most pressing housing issues on reservations is overcrowding. According to a HUD report, nearly 16% of American Indian and Alaska Native households experienced overcrowding, compared to the national average of 2.2%.

Sharon Vogel spoke with Ranking Member Rounds about the unique challenges facing Native American families in federally assisted housing. Rural isolation delays the response time of first responders and the lack of fire stations locally poses a great risk to Native American families. Another issue is methamphetamine contamination inside those federally assisted housing. “We have an epidemic of meth use in our tribal communities,” said Vogel, “and the residual effects of the use of meth in our homes leaves our elders and young children—those with compromised health conditions in very vulnerable positions is also a big concern of ours.”

Ranking Member Rounds discussed the impacts of the reauthorization of the Native American Housing and Assistance and Self-Determination Act (NAHASDA), which has recently been introduced in the Senate (see Memo, 07/06). Vogel said that the reauthorization of NAHASDA would allow for reinstatement of the drug elimination program and encourage drug prevention activities. Reauthorization of NAHASDA would also allow rent structures to be determined by the Tribally Designated Housing Entities (TDHEs) and reauthorize the HUD Tribal-VA Supportive Housing Program. Vogel described how overcrowding creates stress on homes and without proper ventilation, mold can deteriorate homes.

The panelists discussed investments needed to ensure federally assisted homes are green and climate-ready and to address the racial disparities in housing safety. The panelists supported for improvements in HUD’s inspection standards across all federally assisted programs.

Watch the full hearing, read witness testimonies, and explore related legislation at:

More about NAHASDA is on page 5-29 of NLIHC’s 2021 Advocate’s Guide.

See NLIHC’s HoUSed Campaign’s “Key Legislation” at: