After years of wrangling, Congress hastily passed a public housing reform bill in the last days before its October adjournment. Attached as Title V of the FY 1999 HUD/VA appropriations bill, The Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 represented a number of victories for public housing residents and advocates who have been fighting for four years against the repeal of the entire 1937 Housing Act.
The bill’s income targeting provision sets aside 75 percent of Section 8 vouchers for families whose incomes are below 30 percent of the area median, and states that at least 40 percent of newly available units in public housing should go to the poorest families. However, PHAs will be allowed to admit a greater number of working residents with higher incomes. The administration is hoping that by bringing in more working poor families, housing complexes will become less segregated and more stable.
“While scarce federal housing assistance will be opened up to higher income residents” as a result of the bill, said Linda Couch, legislative liaison for the National Low Income Housing Coalition, “earlier versions of the bill were much more detrimental to extremely low income people.”
New vouchers were authorized for the first time in many years, with an unspecified number of incremental vouchers for FY 99, 2002, and 2003. The appropriations committee has funded 50,000 vouchers for FY 99, and the public housing bill authorizes 100,000 incremental vouchers for each of the fiscal years 2000 and 2001, but it will be up to appropriators in those years to decide whether to fund them. The bill also merges the Section 8 voucher and certificate programs into one voucher program.
Advocates expressed concern over the Home Rule demonstration program and a provision which replaces the endless lease in Public Housing with an annual lease, allowing PHAs to refuse to renew leases if tenants fail to perform 8 hours of community service each month or participate in a self-sufficiency program.
After four years, the process the bill went through in its final months was less than open, say many advocates, particularly since details of the conference committee agreement were only made public literally hours before the House of Representatives passed the bill. Indeed, advocates are still studying the document to determine the ultimate effects of new rules regarding mandatory conversion to vouchers, public housing demolition and disposition, and a ban on reduction of rents for people sanctioned under welfare reform.
“This was a huge bill with lots of details that will affect people directly,” said Lisa Ranghelli, policy specialist at the Center for Community Change. “It was pushed through in a process that averted open and comprehensive debate.” The public housing bill “should never have been attached to the appropriations bill in the first place,” she added.
The HUD budget itself is being touted as the “best HUD spending bill in five years” by HUD and advocates alike. Representing a nearly $3 billion increase in the overall HUD budget from FY 1998, highlights include 50,000 new Section 8 vouchers, a $500 million increase in the public housing capital fund, $152 million more for homeless assistance, and $76 million more for CDBG.
For details on the budget and the public housing legislation, see the homepages of HUD <www.hud.gov>, the National Low Income Housing Coalition <www.nlihc.org>, and the Center for Community Change <www.communitychange.org>.
Financial Modernization Made Obsolete
In the final days of the congressional session, partisan bickering in the Senate claimed the life of HR10, the Financial Modernization bill. The proposed legislation would have made sweeping changes to the nation’s financial system and seriously undermined the future ability of low-income communities to have their credit needs met through the Community Reinvestment Act. Watch for it to be revived in the 106th Congress. (Center for Community Change Policy Alert, 10/9/98)
Census Sampling Case Moves to Supreme Court
The United States Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments in the case of U.S. House of Representatives v. U.S. Department of Commerce, on November 30. A special three-judge federal district court ruled in the case in August that the Census Act barred the use of sampling and statistical methods to derive the census counts used for congressional apportionment.
Congress has directed the Census Bureau to abandon a census plan that includes sampling to produce population counts for congressional apportionment but suggested that other scientific methods could be used to produce data for distributing federal aid. Nearly all federal program areas rely on accurate census data to determine distribution of services and resources.
No Minimum Wage Increase This Year
On September 22 the Senate voted against increasing the minimum wage one dollar over two years, saying it was too soon after the 1996 increase to subject businesses to another hike. The current minimum wage is $5.15/hour, which leaves full-time workers who earn that amount well below the poverty line.