Washington News and Views

Public Housing Talks Continue Behind Closed Doors

      As of early April, the principal sponsors of legislation to deregulate public housing and to merge the Section 8 voucher and certificate programs were negotiating the framework for a conference committee to reconcile the public housing reform bills (H.R. 2 and S. 462) passed by the House and Senate last year. Senator Connie Mack (R-FL) and Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY) are trying to iron out differences on major issues, including income targeting, repeal of the 1937 Housing Act, the home rule provision, rent setting policies, and accreditation boards. If they reach agreement on these high priority items, Banking Committee staff will proceed with discussion on the rest of the bills’ contents. Advocates are particularly concerned about possible compromises on income targeting provisions, which will determine whether public housing continues to serve some of the lowest income applicants-those who have the greatest need for affordable housing.

The proposed bills deal with a wide range of complex issues, which are outlined in “Critical Issues Pending in Public and Assisted Housing Reform Legislation: HR 2 and S 462,” a briefing paper drafted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), the Center for Community Change (CCC), ACORN, and the National Housing Law Project. The paper is available (Document #1065) from CCC’s fax on demand service, 703-716-7349; or online, www.nlihc.org/news/ph. For more information contact Lisa Ranghelli, CCC, 202-342-0567; ranghellil@commchange.org

ISTEA Passes House; Access to Jobs Funding Triples

      The 1998 version of The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) was approved by the House of Representatives on April 1. In a victory for low-income advocates, an amendment to increase funding for Access to Jobs passed with strong bipartisan support. Access to Jobs, to which both the House and Senate bills allocate $150 million, provides localities with resources to help welfare recipients and other low-income people get to jobs in places that are not easily accessible by existing transit routes.

The Senate already passed its version of ISTEA earlier in the session, and a conference committee is being appointed to reconcile the two bills. Advocates, including the Transportation Equity Network, are working to ensure that three provisions in the Senate bill make it into the final conference report: representation of mass transit users on Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the local decision-making bodies for transportation issues; disclosure of spending information; and tougher public participation requirements with respect to the MPO certification process. For further information, contact Rich Stolz, CCC, 202-342-0567; richs@commchange.org

Fair Housing

      The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1998 would, if enacted, repeal important civil rights protections for people with disabilities and subject them to renewed discrimination by zoning officials and hostile neighbors. It would also limit housing opportunities for children in foster care group homes and diminish protections against harassment and retaliation based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender and family status.

The proposed legislation would:

  • change the definition of familial status by narrowing the protection for abused and neglected children in group homes (familial status is a protected class under the FHA);
  • remove important protections for persons with disabilities in choosing to live in a residential neighborhood by allowing localities to restrict group homes;
  • allow any occupancy restriction on homes for people recovering from drug addiction, for people with disabilities and for persons convicted of a crime;
  • create an unnecessary burden on complaint filing, thereby reducing the efficiency of the administrative process; and
  • attack the first amendment by legalizing all “expressions of opinion” in, for example, the advertising of home sales and rentals.

For up to date information on all of these legislative issues and more, read CCC’s weekly policy alerts on the Shelterforce web site, at www.nhi.org.

HUD to Investigate Discrimination

    HUD has launched a probe into the problem of mortgage lending discrimination in America’s cities after a number of organizations, including the U.S. Conference of Mayors, called for an investigation. The move follows the largest settlement on record of mortgage discrimination allegations under the Fair Housing Act. The settlement involves three Texas lenders that agreed to make nearly $1.4 billion in home mortgage loans and spend $6 million on a broad range of programs to increase homeownership among low- and moderate-income families and minorities over the next three years, according to the Associated Press (3/10/98). HUD will track complaints of housing bias and conduct spot checks to uncover unlawful business practices that discriminate between white and minority loan applicants. HUD: www.hud.gov

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Shelterforce is a nonprofit publication, published by the National Housing Institute. We are not beholden to a particular program, theory, approach, or constituency. We are dedicated to being useful to our readers and to fostering strong, vibrant, just, healthy places for everyone.

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