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Five Ways to Strengthen Housing Assistance Without Expanding the "Moving-to-Work" Demonstration

September 28, 2011 at 1:51 PM

As I wrote yesterday and discuss more in a new analysis, some members of Congress have called for expanding the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Moving-to-Work (MTW) demonstration, which provides state and local agencies sweeping authority to operate outside the laws and regulations that normally govern the public housing and “Section 8” housing voucher programs.

Though frequently well-administered at the local level, MTW is an ineffective way to test policy alternatives or streamline program rules, and has produced substantial harmful effects — including permitting funds to be shifted away from vouchers that help needy families and undercutting federal standards that are key to the effectiveness of housing assistance programs.

Fortunately, Congress and HUD could take other measures that would effectively streamline rules, test innovative policies, and empower high-performing agencies, without undermining important program standards or permitting funding shifts from vouchers that leave vulnerable families on waiting lists for assistance and at risk of homelessness.  Here are five examples:

  1. Enact national reforms included in the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) and Section 8 Savings Act (SESA) to update and streamline requirements in areas such as housing quality inspections and determining tenants’ rents. These changes would not only make assistance more effective, but also save more than $700 million over five years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
  2. Adopt HUD’s proposal for a rigorous, targeted demonstration testing alternative ways to set rents and encourage work and saving among housing assistance recipients.
  3. Allow agencies to convert some public housing developments to more flexible and reliable Section 8 subsidies.  HUD proposed this under its Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), a version of which the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved.
  4. Support small agencies that opt to coordinate or consolidate operations, a step that would greatly ease administrative burdens for local agencies and HUD.
  5. Give extra flexibility (such as reduced HUD oversight of financial management) to agencies that score exceptionally well on HUD performance assessments.