Podcast: Transforming Rental Assistance

April 27, 2010

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In this podcast, we will discuss the President’s plan to preserve affordable housing. I’m Keri Fulton and I’m joined by Will Fischer, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center.

1.    Will, can you give us an overview of the President’s new affordable housing plan?

Sure, Keri, the plan is called Transforming Rental Assistance – TRA for short -- and it would be the most important new initiative to preserve federally subsidized housing in more than a decade. 

It would do a few different things and the first and most important of those is it would enable local housing agencies and private owners to more easily preserve affordable housing, partly by giving them more adequate and sustainable and flexible funding to operate it.

In the first year it’s estimated that it would preserve between 200,000 and 300,000 affordable apartments.  Most of these are apartments that house low-income elderly people or people with disabilities, and without this plan, many of these units would eventually become uninhabitable or be lost as affordable housing in other ways.

2.    How else will TRA improve rental assistance programs?

The plan would make other improvements to rental assistance programs that would streamline how they’re run and give families with housing subsidies more choice about where they live. This, in turn, would give them access to employment and educational opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available to them.

3.    You mentioned that affordable apartments would be preserved under the plan.  How would this work?

The bulk of the units that would be preserved would be in public housing.

The federal government has consistently provided less funding for public housing over the years than agencies need to operate it and renovate it from time to time.  As a result, more than 165,000 public housing units have been demolished or otherwise removed as affordable housing over the last 15 years. The President’s plan would provide more adequate funding for public housing and it would also make it easier for agencies to leverage private financing to help them renovate buildings.

4.    Why is it important to preserve public and other subsidized housing?

It’s important for a few reasons. One is that public housing in a lot of cases is located in neighborhoods where it would otherwise be hard for low-income people to rent housing. It also provides opportunities for low-income elderly people and people with disabilities that they wouldn’t otherwise have, particularly because a lot of public and subsidized housing is accessible to people who have mobility impairments and it can sometimes be hard to find units like that in the private market. And then the last reason is that public housing is often one of the most cost effective ways to help low-income people afford housing.

5.    How would TRA give families the chance to rent in a wider variety of neighborhoods?

Under the current system, a family that lives in public housing loses their subsidy if they move. For example, a laid off worker who finds a job in another town would be stuck living in public housing where he currently is living, without the option of moving. The President’s plan would change that to allow the same worker after they’ve lived in public housing for two years, to move with what’s called a tenant-based Section 8 voucher that they can use to rent a unit of their choice in the private market.  

6.    Does the program do anything to help families move away from areas that are high in poverty?

Yes, the program would provide funding that would   help agencies help people to move away from high poverty areas.  It would do things like help them to find units that are located in areas with lower poverty or even provide incentives for landlords in those areas to take vouchers. Research shows that living in areas of concentrated poverty can have harmful effects on the well being of children and of families.

7.    What is next step for TRA?

The next thing that’s expected to happen is that the administration will submit a detailed legislative proposal and then Congress would need to act on that and enact legislation authorizing the TRA.

Thank you for joining me, Will. 

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