Senior Policy Analyst
This is the next post in our “Housing Vouchers Work” blog series, which provides the latest facts and figures about the Housing Choice Voucher program, the largest rental assistance program to help families with children, working people, seniors, and people with disabilities afford decent, stable housing.
Several important improvements to the Housing Choice Voucher program enacted through the 2016 Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA) take effect tomorrow. HOTMA, which the Republican-controlled Congress passed unanimously and President Obama signed into law, is the latest example of more than four decades of bipartisan collaboration that has made vouchers the nation’s primary form of rental assistance. This bipartisan support reflects strong and growing evidence that vouchers effectively and efficiently help low-income Americans afford decent, stable housing in the private market.
The new changes streamline housing quality inspections to enable families with vouchers to occupy units more quickly and facilitate use of vouchers for manufactured homes (sometimes called mobile homes), a crucial source of modestly priced housing in many rural areas. They also expand and improve the voucher program’s “project-based” component so it can more effectively provide supportive housing and make units available in lower-poverty neighborhoods. Other important HOTMA provisions won’t take effect until the Department of Housing and Urban Development issues implementing regulations.
HOTMA, which also includes reforms to other federal housing programs, received enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling described it as “an incredible bipartisan work that makes a number of modest, yet significant, improvements to how our housing assistance is granted.” And the committee’s ranking Democrat, Maxine Waters, noted that it includes “much-needed improvements to our housing programs to make them work better for both public housing agencies and the tenants they serve.”
The voucher program was established during the Nixon and Ford Administrations and refined and expanded under President Reagan. The last major legislation to update and strengthen vouchers, the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998, was — like HOTMA — passed with broad support from a Republican Congress and signed by a Democratic President. Members of both parties have worked together to adequately fund vouchers in use around the country. They’ve also funded additional vouchers for people with disabilities (some of which are called “Frelinghuysen vouchers” because House Appropriations Chair Rodney Frelinghuysen championed them) and veterans (helping drive veteran homelessness down 47 percent since 2010).
Calls for further improvements to the voucher program have also come from across the political spectrum. In 2013, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s Housing Commission recommended expanding vouchers to assist all families with incomes below 30 percent of the median in their area. Last year’s House Republican poverty plan recommended improving voucher holders’ access to high-opportunity neighborhoods. And a House subcommittee hearing in September examined opportunities to use vouchers to support upward mobility.
Going forward, policymakers should build on the long history of bipartisan support for housing vouchers by providing adequate funding, promptly completing implementation of HOTMA, and taking other steps to make the program even more effective at helping vulnerable families keep a roof over their heads and provide a platform for their children to succeed.