The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance held a hearing on February 5 on “A Future Without Public Housing? Examining the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Eliminate Public Housing.” Members of the subcommittee and witnesses discussed various proposals and policies to address the significant public housing capital needs backlog, including the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), expanding resources for the program through an infrastructure package, and pursuing additional public-private partnerships.
In their opening remarks, Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Subcommittee Chair William Lacy Clay (D-MO) expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s efforts to “reposition” public housing and move away from administering public housing. Chair Clay quoted NLIHC’s The Gap: A Shortage of Affordable Homes report when discussing the shortage of affordable, accessible homes, particularly for the lowest-income people with disabilities, seniors, and families with children. Both Chair Waters and Chair Clay stated that affordable housing should be part of an infrastructure package, highlighting the “Housing Infrastructure Act of 2019” (H.R. 5187), which would include $70 billion for public housing. While Ranking Member Steven Stivers (R-OH) acknowledged the need for affordable housing for the lowest-income people, he praised the administration’s efforts to move away from public housing and encouraged investments through public-private partnerships.
All witnesses opposed the eradication of the public housing program and encouraged increased investments. Kate Walz, vice president of advocacy at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, focused on how ignoring the capital needs of public housing and demolishing units have impacted residents. She shared stories of residents living in homes with mold and pest infestations and stressed that simply demolishing public housing would only exacerbate the nation’s affordable housing shortage. Ms. Walz highlighted legislation, such as the draft proposal “The Public Housing Tenant Protection Act of 2020,” that would ensure one-for-one replacement of affordable homes demolished or sold and provide other important protections for public housing residents. Dr. Susan Popkin, fellow at the Urban Institute, noted that the majority of the public housing stock is at least 40 years old and needs major capital repairs. She stressed that without sufficient funding, these homes will continue to deteriorate. Dr. Popkin stated that given the extent of the housing crisis and its impact on the lowest-income families, Congress and HUD need to ensure this source of affordable, accessible homes is not lost.
Ann Gass from the Housing Authority of the City of Austin and Bobby Collins from the Housing Authority of the City of Shreveport mentioned RAD as a way for housing authorities to preserve affordable homes. Both acknowledged, however, that the program has flaws, such as financing constraints, but they said RAD is the best option available until Congress provides additional funding for public housing capital repairs. Mr. Collins stated that “the most effective means of addressing the backlog of unmet needs for public housing programs is to provide adequate funding to stabilize and preserve existing public housing properties.” While agreeing with other witnesses about the need for funding, Eugene Jones, president and CEO of the Atlanta Housing Authority, also stated that public housing agencies (PHAs) need additional adminstrative flexibilities and promoted the Moving to Work demonstration program.
Chair Waters expressed her concerns about RAD and the lack of replacement homes for public housing units demolished or otherwise lost. In response to a question from Ranking Member Stivers about how to improve RAD, witnesses mentioned the need for additional funding, stronger resident protections, and alternative tools. Members and witnesses further explored these ideas throughout the hearing, discussing issues of tenant displacement, unsafe living conditions, the general lack of affordable housing, demolition of public housing, and the role of private developers.
More about the hearing and a livestream is at: https://tinyurl.com/r6fv25o
More about the “Housing Infrastructure Act of 2019” is at: https://tinyurl.com/we3d9ng
The draft proposal “The Public Housing Tenant Protection Act of 2020” is at: https://tinyurl.com/yx4zu3vn
More about public housing is on page 4-25 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide
More about RAD is on page 4-33 of NLIHC’s 2019 Advocates’ Guide
More about the key provisions of public housing “repositioning” such as demolition, disposition, and voluntary conversion of public housing to vouchers is on NLIHC’s public housing webpage, https://tinyurl.com/wu4mo9l