As we move into the 107th Congress, looking back at the 106th’s efforts to alleviate the affordable housing crisis can help advocates set their agendas for the coming two years. While much of the legislation advocates supported was not enacted, there were a number of hopeful signs and positive steps.
One of the greatest steps forward was the swell of support for a new affordable housing production program. Republicans and Democrats alike supported efforts to devote new federal resources to the production of affordable housing. Senator Kerry (D-MA) introduced S. 2997, a bipartisan bill to establish a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund with excess Federal Housing Administration income. This bill would have dedicated over $5 billion in the first year and about $2 billion each year thereafter for affordable housing production. (See Shelterforce #113.)
Separately, Senator Bond (R-MO) included a $1 billion production program (also introduced as S. 3033) in the HUD spending bill as part of the appropriations process. The Bond production program was not part of the final spending bill, but language was included in the Conference Report encouraging the next Congress to pass a new production program to address the needs of extremely low-income families. This language, drafted by House and Senate appropriators of both parties, is indicative of the growing bipartisan support for building new housing affordable to the nation’s poor.
Another important step forward was the consideration of a preservation matching grant program to assist states and localities that devote their own resources to preserving affordable housing. As with the production program, the preservation matching grant was not enacted into law. However, bills to create these programs were introduced in both the House and Senate, and H.R. 202, sponsored by Rick Lazio (R-NY), which included a matching grant program, was passed overwhelmingly by the House. Unfortunately, companion legislation in the Senate, S. 2733, co-sponsored by Senators Santorum (R-PA), Kerry (D-MA) and Sarbanes (D-MD), was not debated on the Senate floor. The good news is that there was bipartisan support for both bills.
Apart from new programs, the FY01 appropriations bill signed into law on October 27, 2000 provides increased funding for existing housing programs (H. Rpt. 106-988). HUD’s budget increased to $30.6 billion, including 79,000 new vouchers, almost 20,000 more vouchers than Congress funded last year. The HUD/VA appropriations bill also contains significant funding increases for the public housing operating fund ($3.242 billion), the public housing capital fund ($3 billion), HOME ($1.8 billion), CDBG ($5.057 billion), and for elderly ($779 million) and disabled ($217 million) housing programs. In addition to these increases, Shelter + Care (S+C) renewal funding was shifted from the Homeless Assistance fund to a separate account that was funded at $100 million to cover FY01 and FY02 renewals. Advocates have been working to move S+C renewals, which are really for permanent housing, not homeless assistance, into the Section 8 renewal funds where they would be guaranteed continued funding and wouldn’t decrease the amount available for homeless assistance. While the FY01 bill did not move S+C to Section 8, the shift of S+C renewals to its own account might achieve the same objectives. For detailed information on the FY 2001 HUD budget, see the NLIHC’s budget chart.
The FY01 appropriations not only increased funding for housing assistance programs but contained a number of important changes to current law. The bill increases the cap on the number of tenant-based vouchers that PHAs can tie down to a particular unit (in effect converting them to project-based assistance) from 15 to 20 percent. A new “continued assistance option,” where residents may move out of project-based assistance using a voucher after an initial year of occupancy, will ensure that the tying-down of vouchers will not limit recipients’ mobility. The change also limits the number of families receiving vouchers in any given development to 25 percent to ensure mixed-income developments. For detailed information on these changes, see www.cbpp.org/10-25-00hous.htm. Other changes include extending enhanced voucher protection to residents remaining in units whose owners opted-out of assisted housing programs after FY96; exempting PHAs in Mississippi and Alaska from the requirement that they have a resident on their governing board; and allowing all remaining project owners under the defunct 236 program to retain excess income.
The positive developments seen this past year give us reason to believe that the next Congress may be in a good position to pick up where the 106th Congress left off. Housing advocates will work to ensure that this happens.