House Republicans Release Anti-Poverty Agenda

paulBy Elayne Weiss, Policy Analyst

Today, Speaker Ryan and the Republican Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility released an anti-poverty agenda. In developing the agenda, the Task Force identified four key principles that guided their work. These included conditioning the provision of welfare benefits on work, providing incentives to move people from welfare to work, measuring results, and focusing support on people with the greatest need. Below we detail some of the recommendations the Task Force made, especially those pertaining to housing.

Work Requirements

The Task Force recommends that work-capable welfare recipients be required to work or preparing for work to receive benefits under federal safety-net programs. To encourage work among people receiving federal housing assistance, the Task Force also recommends aligning housing benefits with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for all work-capable residents who are living in Public Housing or in project-based Section 8 housing or who have received a Housing Choice Voucher. Currently, all states impose participation requirements in work-related activities on most adults who receive TANF assistance.

The Task Force claims that HUD programs lack requirements that encourage self-sufficiency, contributing “to rental assistance becoming more expensive and waiting lists growing larger each year as current recipients stay longer.” Under the Task Force’s proposal, work-capable individuals receiving housing assistance would be expected to work or prepare to work by developing self-sufficiency plans with a TANF case worker, who will also assist them in preparing for working, such as helping arrange child care, transportation and other necessities.

The Task Force proposes that local jurisdictions administering housing assistance should provide program guidance in the same way states provide guidance for the TANF program, such as mandating work requirements, educational training, and time limits for benefits “to encourage non-working work-capable recipients to move towards jobs, careers, and economic independence.”

While the Task Force proposes linking affordable housing to the TANF program, it is important to note that the welfare reform of the 1990s not only didn’t improve poverty levels, but also sunk some families into deeper poverty. TANF, created during that reform, continues to fall short in helping people break the cycle of poverty. In fact, the majority of people who are eligible for TANF benefits do not receive them. In 2012, only 32.4% of eligible families received assistance from the TANF program, while recent research indicates that some of the poorest families are not receiving assistance. Poor families that are not receiving TANF benefits include those that have been sanctioned for not complying with program requirements, or have reached their state’s time limit. Studies have found that families that lost their TANF benefits through sanctions are more likely than other families to include a person with a disability that can hinder his or her ability to find or maintain employment.

Moreover, we have also seen work requirements and time limits imposed in HUD’s Moving to Work (MTW) demonstration without the necessary evaluation to see if these requirements help low income residents increase earnings or if they in fact create negative outcomes. Now, with the recent expansion of the MTW program to an additional 100 public housing agencies (PHAs), we have an opportunity to evaluate how such policies impact low public housing residents. Unlike the first iteration of the program, the expansion will be overseen by a research advisory committee to ensure the demonstrations are evaluated with rigorous research protocols, including quantitative analysis and comparisons to control groups. This new evaluation requirement goes hand in hand with the Task Force’s focus on funding programs based on performance outcomes. To that point, lawmakers should hold off on mandating work requirements for recipients of housing assistance until that research is conducted to better understand the potential impact such requirements might have.

Increasing Flexibility

The Task Force proposes allowing states to test new ways of providing welfare benefits to achieve desired outcomes. When states choose to exercise such flexibility, any demonstration conducted must be paired with an evaluation to determine its efficacy in helping people rise out of poverty.

Creating Individual Choice in Housing Assistance

The Task Force recognizes that many households receiving housing assistance face significant barriers when trying to move to the neighborhood of their choice. We agree with their recommendation to reform how PHAs administer housing assistance vouchers to enhance their portability and “to encourage recipients to move to areas with more affordable housing, education, or job opportunities.”

Currently, 2,400 housing agencies administer the nation’s two million housing choice vouchers. Of these 2,400 agencies, 58% administer fewer than 400 vouchers. These small housing agencies exist in rural, suburban, and urban markets. In urban markets, there are 558 housing agencies administering vouchers in the nation’s 49 most populated metro areas.

Consolidation of the administration of vouchers would result in administrative cost savings, bring significant benefits to voucher holders and people with low incomes in need of housing vouchers, and reduce HUD’s oversight costs.

The Task Force also recommends moving beyond the public housing model towards new housing models “that harness the abilities of non-profits and other cost-effective service providers.” While NLIHC believes that public housing is a critical housing resource for people of modest means, we recognize that in this unstable federal budget environment, developers can no longer count on federal subsidies to support projects serving extremely low income (ELI) households, those earning less than 30% of the area median income (AMI). The national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), as well as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Rental Assistance Demonstration programs, offer ideal opportunities to finance creation and preservation of affordable housing through the leveraging of private dollars.

Finally, we were heartened to see the Task Force propose efforts to encourage greater engagement of public housing residents in the operation and management of their residence. NLIHC has long advocated for greater resident engagement and participation. Public housing residents have important personal perspectives about the impact of established and emerging housing policies on their homes and communities. Consequently, they have good ideas about how their housing developments should be managed. Resident participation in all aspects of housing management is critical to the long-term success of federal housing programs.

Reducing Duplication

The Task Force recommends consolidating the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service rental assistance program into HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher program, since they have “almost identical goals”. The Task Force believes that through consolidation, lawmakers can simplify the delivery of services for seamlessness, consistency and fairness.

Measuring Results

The Task Force emphasizes that safety net programs should only be funded if they are proven to be effective through rigorous evaluation and data, and believes taxpayer dollars have been wasted on programs that do not achieve their stated purpose. The Task Force makes several recommendations for funding programs based on evidence-based policymaking:

  • Tiered-Funding Structures. Programs will first be tested on a smaller scale, and if effective, will later be scaled up.
  • Use Funding Models that Only Pay Based on Outcomes. The proposal recommends using a pay-for-success or social-impact financing model, in which an organization or intermediary only receives payment from the government if the agreed upon outcome is achieved by a program.
  • Program Evaluation to Determine Funding Decisions. Every social program would be evaluated to determine its effectiveness. To do so, the Task Force recommends redirecting program funding towards evaluations or data collection.
  • Expand the Availability of Data and Information. The proposal recommends that policymakers have access to high-quality data to ensure they can make the best decisions as to what programs should be funded.

Over the coming weeks, Speaker Ryan and the Task Force will release 5 more pillars of their policy proposal “to get America back on track”, some of which are expected to include concrete legislative proposals that may be moved by relevant committees. While we still don’t know whether House Republicans will move legislation incorporating the Task Force’s housing recommendations, we will continue to monitor and track any new legislative proposals that do so to ensure ELI families receiving housing assistance do not lose their safety net.

Senate Passes THUD Bill, As Advocates Mobilize to Defeat Amendment Attacking Fair Housing

United States Capitol Building

West side view of the United States Capitol building.

By Elayne Weiss, Policy Analyst

After days of debate, the Senate passed yesterday a spending package that included the THUD appropriations bill by a vote of 89 to 9.

NLIHC supported passage of the bill since it includes no significant funding cuts and will ensure households currently served by HUD programs will continue to receive assistance.

The Senate THUD bill will:

  • Provide sufficient funding to renew existing project-based rental assistance contracts;
  • Allocate enough funds to renew existing Housing Choice Vouchers and provide additional funds for new vouchers targeted to the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program and Family Unification Program;
  • Increase funding for public housing;
  • Provide new resources to homeless assistance programs, including targeted funds to address youth homelessness;
  • Level fund the HOME Investment Partnerships program, the Community Development Block Grant program, and the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program;
  • Increase funding for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program and the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program; and
  • Provide more resources to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants.

To view NLIHC’s updated budget chart, which further details the funding levels in the bill, click here.

As the Senate considered the bill, housing and civil rights advocates had to spring into action when Senators Mike Lee (R-UT), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Richard Shelby (R-AL), and David Vitter (R-LA) filed an amendment attacking the Fair Housing Act. Their amendment would prohibit HUD from implementing the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule and its assessment tool, as they claim the rule turns HUD into a national zoning board with the power to overturn or rewrite local zoning laws in communities across America.

However, we know that’s not true. We know that the AFFH rule will provide states and local governments with the guidance and data they need to help them more fairly and effectively invest federal funds in their communities. We know that this rule imposes no new obligations; it simply clarifies how communities can comply with existing obligations and provides tools to help them live up to the commitment that they’ve already made. Moreover, the rule affirms localities maintain control in developing and implementing solutions for removing barriers to fair housing.

NLIHC and our members, including our state partners, made calls, sent letters, and blasted action alerts in an effort to defeat the amendment. All that hard work paid off when senators opposing the amendment eked out the 60 votes needed to set the amendment aside, defeating efforts to have it included in the THUD bill. The final vote was 60 to 37.

Senators took to the floor to speak about the importance of the AFFH rule in realizing the promise of the 1968 Fair Housing Act, with some recounting their own experience facing or witnessing housing discrimination.

Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), a former mayor, spoke of the discrimination his parents faced when trying to buy a home and how the Fair Housing Act came to their aid. “Legislation that this body passed empowered my family to move into the home of their dreams in an all-White neighborhood with incredibly good schools that I went through from K–12,” Senator Booker said. “I am the beneficiary of work this body did to ensure that our American values are preserved, our values of inclusion and integration, to make sure fair housing is the law of the land. That work gave me my start in life. The activism of local activists, combined with the law of the land as passed by us, defined my path.”

Senators also explained that the AFFH rule empowers local communities to better address the housing needs of all of their residents, and not “federal bureaucrats to dictate where a community’s low income residents will live,” as Senator Lee would like you to believe. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) spoke about how the rule will allow communities to gather “more information to try and find ways we can end the lack of housing availability for certain Americans by bringing in data and trying to create new ways to [address the problem].” He particularly pointed to the housing discrimination faced by many people with disabilities. Indeed, more than 50 percent of fair housing complaints that are filed each year are disability-related.

THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME) and others pointed out that the rule was a direct response to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report that criticized HUD for not effectively enforcing the Fair Housing Act. “[The AFFH rule] wasn’t some wild scheme that was dreamed up by bureaucrats at HUD, as some have claimed,” Senator Collins said. “This was in response to a report from the Government Accountability Office. We talk about how we want more efficiency, better accountability. That is why we have the GAO. This rule that was directly adopted in response to the GAO’s report surely is significant.”

Senators noted that in responding to the GAO, HUD worked diligently to craft a rule that addressed the needs and concerns of many stakeholder groups, a process that spanned years and involved input from the public, including mayors and county executives.

Senator Collins, along with Appropriations Chair Thad Cochran (R-MS) and THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), offered an amendment that made clear that the new rule does not provide local zoning authority to HUD. That amendment was adopted on an 87-9 vote.

It was critical that the Senate block the AFFH amendment from making its way into the THUD bill, considering the House has included a similar provision in its THUD spending bill the past two years, and is likely to do so again. If both the House and Senate were to include language blocking the AFFH rule in their THUD bills, it becomes more likely that that language will be incorporated in a final THUD bill negotiated between the two chambers.

Fair Housing advocates must remain ever vigilant to make sure that doesn’t happen. But in the meantime, let’s savor this victory and give heaping thanks to our champions in the Senate who defended the Fair Housing Act with so much persistence and righteousness.

 

House Panel Advances FY17 THUD Spending Bill

By Elayne Weiss, Policy Analyst

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) approved its FY17 spending bill on May 18 by a voice vote. Much like the Senate version of the bill, the House proposal is better than expected and should provide sufficient funding to ensure continued assistance to all households currently served by HUD. House appropriators were able to avoid major cuts and increase funding for a few programs.

The bill includes no negative policy or funding decisions related to the national Housing Trust Fund, a stark departure from last year’s House THUD Subcommittee bill which proposed raiding the HTF to fill a funding gap.

Overall, the funding levels for HUD programs proposed in the bill are fairly similar to those included in the Senate bill, with some notable exceptions, reflecting the different priorities between the two chambers. However, unlike the Senate, the House THUD Subcommittee largely excluded policy proposals, such as expanding the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) and initiatives to reduce lead paint hazard, from the bill.

The House THUD Subcommittee received an allocation of $58.2 billion to fund important housing and transportation programs, an increase of $889 million over the FY16 allocation. Of this amount, HUD will receive $38.7 billion, $384 million more than last year’s level, but below the amount provided in the Senate version of the bill, $39.2 billion.

THUD Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Mario Diaz-Balart stated, “We were able to make these vital investments in transportation systems and communities because of the very generous allocation to this subcommittee.”

Homelessness

Homeless assistance programs received a large increase in funding when compared to the Senate version of the bill: $2.487 billion versus $2.3 billion. This also represents a $237 million increase over FY16 funding levels. The bill does not specifically target funds to address youth homelessness, but does require HUD to collect performance measures of each continuum of care that will influence how future funds are distributed.

Tenant Based Rental Assistance

Despite providing less funding than the Senate ($18.312 billion compared to $18.355 billion), House appropriators maintain that this amount is sufficient to renew existing housing choice vouchers. The House also chose not to allocate any money towards new Family Unification Program (FUP) vouchers, and only provided $7 million towards Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) vouchers specifically targeted to Native American veterans.

The bill does not include funding for the Obama Administration’s proposed housing choice voucher mobility demonstration designed to encourage families to move to lower-poverty areas and expand access to areas of opportunity. The Senate provided $11 million for the demonstration.

Project Based Rental Housing

Like the Senate version of the bill, the House bill provides $10.901 billion to renew all project-based rental assistance contracts for calendar year 2017, an increase of $85 million from the FY16 funding level.

Public Housing

The House decided to flat fund both public housing accounts in FY17. The Senate has proposed increasing funding for both. Under the House bill, the operating fund and capital account would receive $4.5 billion and $1.9 billion respectively.

The bill does not increase the number of public housing units that can convert under the RAD.

Other Housing Programs

For certain housing programs, the House bill provides the same level of funding proposed in the Senate bill. That includes $505 million for the Section 202 Housing for the Elderly program, enough to renew all contracts, and $154 million for the Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities program, $3 million over the FY16 level. The House bill does not include language allowing Section 202 Project Rental Assistance Contract (PRAC) properties to convert under RAD.

Like the Senate, the House bill flat funds the HOME Investments Partnerships program ($950 million), the Community Development Block Grant program ($3 billion), and the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program ($335 million). The House bill does not update the HOPWA formula.

While funding for the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative was cut in both bills, the House overall provided more funding for the program in FY17 ($100 million compared to $80 million). The program received $125 million in FY16.

Additionally, the bill provides $130 million to the Office of Lead Hazard Control and Healthy Homes’ grants, a $20 million increase.

Next Steps

The full Appropriations Committee will likely debate the bill and amendments offered by committee members sometime next week. Policy riders will loom large, including trucking safety provisions and language potentially added as an amendment preventing HUD from implementing its Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule.