HAs Need to Weigh in with Congress Now
PHADA President David A. Northern, Sr.
I encourage readers to review the joint industry statement expressing support for a major expansion of the Housing Choice Voucher program. I was delighted to help represent PHADA in conversations with leaders at NAHRO, CLPHA, and the MTW Collaborative on this important initiative. The statement points out how the pandemic has highlighted the critical role housing stability plays in the lives of Americans, especially when they experience a loss of income due to health challenges and economic difficulties.
Housing professionals know all too well that our programs only reach a fraction of the people who are eligible. As of right now, vouchers are available to about one in five low-income households. Enactment of a universal voucher program would help address this huge shortcoming. We note in the statement that Columbia University found that an expansion to all eligible households could help reduce poverty by 9.3 million people nationwide. It would also help reduce vast racial disparities in housing across the United States.
President Biden included a large expansion of the program in the proposed 2022 HUD budget. Overall, that plan would increase spending by more than $5 billion for a total of 200,000 additional vouchers, many of which would be utilized for those who are homeless or fleeing domestic violence, and for moves to high opportunity neighborhoods.
Based on its 2020 campaign commitments, it is expected that the Administration will propose incremental increases in subsequent years with a longer-term goal of making HCVs available to all eligible recipients. Some leading members of Congress such as Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the chair of the House Financial Services Committee, are now leading efforts to try and secure an increase through their own legislation (see the June 23 Advocate) or possibly even tacking the measure on to an infrastructure package.
There are several details that will have to be addressed with a major expansion. For example, we need to make sure there is sufficient administrative funding for HAs to run the program, particularly for counseling and search assistance. In addition, we know there are some flaws in the program that should be addressed such as correcting faulty Fair Market Rents (FMRs), Small Area FMRs, and securing more landlord participation across the country.
For now, though, the very fact that this conversation is occurring is a major step in the right direction. PHADA will continue to convey its recommendations and ideas to enhance the plan as it evolves. In the meantime, I strongly encourage members to use the joint statement on Universal Housing Vouchers in your advocacy and outreach to your Representatives and Senators.
More Affordable Housing Needed
A large expansion of the voucher program would go a long way towards helping reduce poverty while providing shelter to millions more low-income Americans. It is not the sole answer, though.
In some communities, there is simply not enough affordable housing to serve families, so vouchers may not be the most useful tool. That is why we need to have a two-track approach, which Secretary Marcia Fudge testified to in a recent congressional hearing. In addition to a major HCV expansion, we need to ensure the preservation of existing public housing in conjunction with the development of more affordable housing in many locales.
The President’s proposed infrastructure package would provide $40 billion in capital funding while other legislation would allocate $70 billion. Most of the attention that has been focused on the infrastructure package has concentrated on the preservation of aging units with a massive infusion of funds like AARA about a decade ago. This is obviously an appealing component of the package, which PHADA strongly supports. There is another beneficial aspect of the plan, however.
According to HUD, HAs are authorized to develop more than 200,000 new units nationwide, going up to their so-called “Faircloth” limits. During briefings on the plan conducted earlier this month, the Department said that HAs would have the option to use some of their funding for new Section 8 or 9 (traditional public housing) development. HUD says the use of funds would be optional based on an HA’s priorities. We strongly support this kind of flexibility and local decision-making because every community and housing authority has different needs and circumstances to consider.
I wrote in my last column how important it is that members communicate with their elected officials on the infrastructure package, using PHADA’s Infrastructure position paper, located here. Given that negotiations and the legislative process are heating up, now is the time to weigh in with your elected officials. Talks are at critical stage and there is a real possibility housing could be left out of the package.
PHADA’s September Legislative Forum
Another way for you to register your views on the issues identified above (and others, of course) is to be present in Washington at PHADA’s September meeting. If possible, it would be helpful to bring commissioners and key staff too.
During our meeting, members will hear from key policymakers at HUD, lawmakers, their staffs and others. Most of our committee meetings are open to members and provide a great way to learn more about what is happening in the nation’s capital.
While congressional office buildings are not yet fully open to the public, there are ways to arrange in-person meetings with your Representatives, Senators, and their staffs. Please see the related article here for that information. In addition, the meeting schedule and registration materials are available on PHADA's website. I hope to see you in Washington.