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Congress Unanimously Approves Bill to Improve Housing Programs

Following a unanimous House vote earlier this year, the Senate unanimously approved housing reform legislation last night that will provide important benefits to low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities.  The President is expected to sign the bill — H.R. 3700, the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act.

The bill, which provides the first comprehensive update to the nation’s low-income housing programs in 18 years, will improve federal rental assistance programs while retaining the core characteristics that make them effective — such as income-based rents that ensure that even very poor families can keep a roof over their heads and rules targeting most assistance on the neediest families.  An unprecedented, broad range of housing groups supported the legislation.

As we’ve explained, while reducing program costs modestly, the bill will:

  • Expand low-income tenants’ access to low-poverty areas with less crime and well-performing schools.  The bill allows state and local housing agencies to use more “project-based” housing vouchers in these higher-opportunity areas.  Research shows that using a rental voucher to move to a low-poverty neighborhood improves children’s rate of college attendance and their long-run earnings, as well as adults’ health.
  • Help address homelessness.  The bill allows housing agencies to use project-based vouchers more effectively to provide supportive housing to homeless individuals and families (as well as veterans, the elderly, and people with disabilities).  It also revises the rules for inspecting units that families with tenant-based vouchers wish to rent in order to get vulnerable families into homes more quickly, while protecting them from eviction if the agency suspends payments to an owner due to housing-quality violations.  And it strengthens voucher assistance for former foster children, who face a high risk of homelessness.
  • Reduce administrative burdens for housing agencies and private owners of assisted units.  The bill streamlines the rules for determining tenants’ rents (which are based on their incomes), allowing both agencies and owners to target more resources on activities that directly benefit low-income households, such as providing supportive services and maintaining assisted developments.
  • Strengthen work incentives.  The bill encourages work by delaying rent increases for tenants who start employment or whose earnings rise because they get better-paying jobs or boost their hours.
  • Help preserve public housing and improve residents’ quality of life.  The bill gives agencies more flexibility to use public housing funds for pressing renovation needs.  Due to long-term underfunding, the nation’s public housing developments have accumulated more than $26 billion in unmet renovation needs, which expose low-income families to deteriorating living conditions and safety hazards.

The remarkable congressional action — a 427-0 vote in the House, a unanimous voice vote in the Senate — reflects widespread, bipartisan support for common-sense reforms in housing policy that will bolster the programs’ ability to continue to help low-income families find and keep safe, affordable housing.