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Recent Congressional Hearings Focus on Housing Choice Voucher Program Funding and Legislative Proposals

Published on April 20, 2018 by Althea Arnold
Recent Congressional Hearings Focus on Housing Choice Voucher Program Funding and Legislative Proposals

On April 17, two House Subcommittees held hearings focused on HUD’s Housing Choice Voucher (voucher) program. The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) followed-up on its earlier Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Budget hearing to dive deeper into the Administration’s proposals for vouchers and other programs under HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) purview. The House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance held a hearing to examine draft legislative proposals seeking to improve voucher mobility, prioritize vouchers for youth aging out of foster care, and set aside vouchers for individuals facing opioid addiction.

THUD Hearing

Dominique Blom, General Deputy Assistant Secretary for PIH, was the sole witness at the THUD hearing. A career employee, Blom was asked to testify as HUD awaits the confirmation of Hunter Kurtz, President Trump’s nominee to lead PIH. Blom told the Subcommittee that HUD’s FY 2019 Budget reflects the Administration’s prioritization of defense over non-defense spending, Secretary Carson’s prioritization of some HUD programs, and other difficult funding decisions. Blom also highlighted the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) as a means to convert public housing units to a more sustainable platform, echoing much of Secretary Carson’s earlier testimony.

THUD Subcommittee Chairman Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) and others on the Subcommittee asked Blom about HUD’s yet-to-be- released legislative plan for rent reform, noting that HUD already incorporated proposals from that plan into its FY 2019 Budget calculations. Blom told the Subcommittee HUD is expecting to release its rent reform plan in the next few weeks; and that proposals include triannual certifications, minimum rents, and increased tenant rent contributions for HUD-assisted housing. Although work requirements are not expected to be included in the plan, Blom said that the rent reform proposals are part of HUD’s response to the Administration’s recent Executive Order on Reducing Poverty by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.

During the hearing, Blom also provided updates on HUD’s regulatory efforts to streamline and provide additional flexibility within the voucher program. She acknowledged that the agency has faced delays in implementing the provisions of the Housing Opportunities Through Modernization Act (HOTMA), but said the agency is working to get applicable proposed rules out by the end of the calendar year. She also shared that HUD will be publishing a proposed rule to implement the Moving to Work expansion, authorized in the FY 2016 omnibus spending bill, later this spring and inviting agencies to apply by the end of 2018.

Housing and Insurance Subcommittee Hearing

Later the same day, House Financial Services Housing and Insurance Subcommittee Chairman Sean Duffy (R-WI) presented his Subcommittee with three discussion drafts for legislation that would impact the voucher program: Duffy’s draft “Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration Act of 2018;” House Financial Services Committee Member Andy Barr’s (R-KY) draft “Transitional Housing for Opioid Recovery Demonstration Program Act of 2018;” and an amended version of H.R. 2069, the “Fostering Stable Housing Opportunities Act of 2018” introduced by Representative Mike Turner (R-OH).

Witnesses called to discuss the draft proposals were Barbara Sard, Vice President for Housing Policy, Center for Budget & Policy Priorities; Ruth White, Executive Director, National Center for Housing & Child Welfare; Lynn Kovich, Deputy Secretary, Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Pennsylvania Department of Human Services; and Dean Hammond, Board Member, Foundation for Affordable Housing in Kentucky.

Ranking Member Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) commended the Subcommittee for examining ways to improve housing services, and while noting that the proposals were well-intentioned, expressed his concerns with all three. Duffy’s draft voucher mobility legislation would create a demonstration program for up to 10 regions, but Cleaver expressed concern that the draft does not authorize new funding for the demonstration, and instead requires it to be funded through money that would otherwise be used to fund public housing authorities’ (PHAs) administrative fees. Cleaver also expressed concern that the two other draft proposals would set aside vouchers and prioritize certain populations in an already over-subscribed program and that Barr’s draft would have nonprofits, and not PHAs, administer the opioid recovery vouchers.

Barbara Sard echoed Cleaver’s concern that Turner’s and Barr’s drafts rely on preferences and set-asides as opposed to creating new, much-needed vouchers. She argued that, as written, the drafts run contrary to Congress’ decision more than 20 years ago to leave voucher admission decisions up to local PHAs.

All witnesses recommended authorizing sufficient funding, including additional vouchers, as a means to improve the discussion drafts. The witnesses also agreed Barr’s draft would be strengthened by allowing persons with any substance abuse issue, not just opioid addiction, to qualify. The witnesses, in response to a question by Duffy, said they would support the discussion drafts if they were amended to include the recommendations discussed during the hearing.