February 08, 2012
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On February 7, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing, and Community Opportunity marked up and passed by voice vote the discussion draft of the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act of 2012 (AHSSIA).  The legislation is the latest version of the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) and the Section 8 Savings Act (SESA).  
The legislation includes a number of non-controversial provisions, including:  requiring inspections biennially instead of annually, reducing the frequency of income recertification from annually to every three years for tenants on fixed incomes, and basing rent on a tenant’s income from the previous year.  The legislation also includes more controversial items such as an expansion of the Moving to Work (MTW) program and an increase in minimum rent.  These two provisions were the main focus of discussion during the markup.
Subcommittee Ranking Member Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) offered an amendment to remove the provision that would increase the minimum rent in the Public Housing and Housing Choice Voucher programs to $69.45 and index it for inflation.  Public housing agencies (PHAs) can currently set a minimum rent of not more than $50.  Gutierrez argued that the provision would harm vulnerable families and that incomes have not risen in line with inflation.  Representative Gary Miller (R-CA) said that he supported the increase since the hardship exemption remains intact.  Miller also stated that he has not heard of one family evicted because they could not pay the minimum rent.  Gutierrez commented that the provision removes a PHA’s discretion to set rent below the minimum amount.  He stated that 27 percent of all PHAs do not currently set a minimum rent.
Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) spoke in support of Gutierrez’s amendment, stating that now is not the time, as we are coming out of a recession, to increase minimum rent.  She also stated that the hardship exemption is underutilized because many persons receiving assistance do not know how to ask for the exemption or do not know it exists.  Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) stated that when crafting the bill, Republicans on the Subcommittee wanted to make sure that the exemptions worked.  She stated that they reached out to numerous stakeholders and did not find any examples of evictions due to inability to pay minimum rent.  Biggert added that the increase in minimum rent would make a difference in the overall cost of the program and could help with assisting more people on Section 8 waiting lists.  Gutierrez withdrew his amendment with the understanding that the Subcommittee would continue to work on the issue before the full Committee markup.
Waters offered an amendment to strike the provision expanding the MTW program and replace it with the Housing Innovation Program (HIP) that was included in a previous version of Section 8 reform legislation.  HIP would cap the number of agencies eligible for the program at 95 and would include additional protections for tenants.  Representative Nydia Velázquez (R-NY) spoke in support of Waters’ amendment, arguing that there is not enough oversight to expand eligibility for MTW to every PHA.  Waters withdrew her amendment with the understanding that the Subcommittee would continue to work on the issue before the legislation is marked up in the full Committee.
Gutierrez also offered an amendment to allow PHAs to set a payment standard of up to 120 percent of fair market rent (FMR) as a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities without receiving HUD approval.  This provision was included in an earlier version of the legislation.  Biggert said that the Subcommittee would likely accept the amendment but wanted assurance from HUD that there would not be a cost to the provision.  Gutierrez agreed to withdraw the amendment and to get the cost information from HUD.
Representative Brad Sherman (D-CA) offered an amendment to allow vouchers to be used towards purchasing manufactured housing.  Sherman stated that this amendment would put manufactured housing on equal footing with brick and mortar housing and that the provision was included in an earlier version of the legislation.  After some members expressed concerns about the amendment, Sherman agreed to withdraw the amendment and to work to address Members’ questions before the full Committee markup.
Biggert stated that she hopes the legislation will be marked up by the full Committee at the end of February, but there is a lot of work left to do before it will be ready.  Language of the amendments offered and the archived webcast are available on the Committee’s website.  For more information on AHSSIA, see NCSHA’s January 27 blog.