Housing Reform Bills
- After a year of trying to reach consensus on major public and assisted housing reform, House and Senate staff are hoping to complete this legislation by the end of September. The House bill, H.R. 2, and the Senate bill, S. 462, propose significant changes to how federal public and assisted housing dollars are administered through 3,400 local housing agencies and, critically, to who will receive these scarce resources in the future. The divvying up of housing assistance dollars to help higher income families, a cornerstone of the House bill and, to a lesser extent, the Senate bill, has been a central negotiation stumbling block.
While acknowledging the benefits of mixed-income communities, housing advocates, along with HUD, have been steadfast in their work to keep the majority of housing assistance available for families most in need. Ideally, all families’ housing needs should be met. However, targeting assistance away from families most in need with no plan on how these struggling families will be served is seen by many as short-sighted. The Clinton administration has stated that, if the House’s controversial parceling of these resources – known as income targeting – passes, a veto will follow.
The bills also give local governments deregulated control over public and assisted housing programs (thus taking these programs away from local housing agencies and placing them under the control of local governments), change evictions procedures, merge the certificate and voucher programs, and change resident participation and involvement in housing agency plans and demolition proceedings, along with many other issues.
In late July, the House bill was attached to the must-pass HUD appropriations bill in an effort to spur definitive action on public and assisted housing reform. Members of Congress and their staff have been meeting and working toward agreement and are currently optimistic that one can be met by the scheduled October 9 adjournment date. While it is unlikely that the current negotiations will cause a veto, a compromise will likely be reached that delineates just who will and who won’t benefit from the new regulations.
For the first time in years, it looks as if a public housing bill might pass. Action is needed from local advocates to help ensure that the needs of low-income public housing residents are met. Please contact your representatives, and visit the National Low Income Housing Coalition web site (www.nlihc.org) for updates on the negotiations and on what you can do to help.
In September, a House and Senate conference committee will begin to negotiate a final FY99 HUD appropriations bill. In search of what HUD Secretary Cuomo has called “the best HUD budget in ten years,” conferees will seek to work through their differences before the next fiscal year, which begins October 1. Whether or not this deadline is met, the conference committee has the potential to produce important resources for an inadequately housed nation.
Specifically, new Section 8 rental assistance vouchers are on the table. The House bill (H.R. 4194) calls for about 17,000 new vouchers for people transitioning from welfare to work; the Senate bill (S. 2168) calls for about 8,000 similar vouchers, but only for certain cities. Advocates are pushing for at least the House numbers, if not more; the President had requested 50,000 such vouchers, plus 34,000 for people who are currently homeless.
Other gains could be realized during conference committee negotiations – including increases to public housing modernization funds, fair housing programs, and regional opportunity counseling (which enhances the usefulness of rental assistance vouchers). Advocates are also hoping the House will follow the Senate’s lead in eliminating a Congressionally-imposed three-month delay in reissuing Section 8 vouchers. This three-month holding time costs about 40,000 families a year access to affordable housing.
Information provided by Linda Couch of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Visit the NLIHC web site (www.nlihc.org) for updates on the negotiations.