I testified today before the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Insurance, Housing, and Community Opportunity on how some of the Section 8 Savings Act (SESA) self-sufficiency provisions are promising, though improvements are needed, and on the risks of sharply expanding HUD’s “Moving-to-Work” demonstration. Here is the opening of my testimony:
BEYOND THE NUMBERS
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.
It’s important that federal housing assistance operate as efficiently and effectively as possible. Unfortunately, some members of Congress are considering a misguided strategy to pursue that goal: expanding HUD’s Moving-to-Work (MTW) demonstration.
As I have written, a House subcommittee this month passed deep cuts to public housing that would expose low-income residents to deteriorating living conditions and raise federal costs in the long run by putting off energy efficiency improvements and other cost-effective investments. The people who would be harmed are some of the nation’s most vulnerable. Most public housing residents have incomes below the poverty line, and close to two-thirds of public housing units house someone who is elderly or has a disability.
CBPP, with a broad coalition of 45 national organizations and over 750 groups in all 50 states, today urged the leadership of the Senate Banking Committee to take swift action on legislation to reform the “Section 8” Housing Choice Voucher program, the largest federal low-income housing assistance program.
The federal government has a long history of underfunding public housing, and the $1.4 billion funding cut that a House Appropriations subcommittee approved last week would make a bad situation worse, exposing families to deteriorating living conditions, greater risk of safety hazards, and possible displacement from their homes, as our new report explains.
Recent anecdotal reports suggest that some newly developed suburbs hit hard by the foreclosure crisis have seen an increase in the number of homes occupied by renters rather than owners, and that some of these renters are low-income families using federal housing vouchers. Critics accuse voucher holders of causing neighborhood decline, but the charge is inaccurate and unfair.
The federal “Section 8” rental assistance programs — the Housing Choice Voucher and Project-Based Rental Assistance programs — have long received strong bipartisan support in Congress, and studies by the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and others have found the voucher program in particular to be a cost-effective way to help low-income families afford decent-quality housing.
A report sponsored by the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated today that the nation’s public housing developments faced $26 billion in unmet needs for repairs and renovations in 2010. Many renovation projects supported by the 2009 Recovery Act’s $4 billion in public housing capital funding were just getting underway when the study was carried out, but even after those projects are done, the unmet need will still stand well above $20 billion, threatening the long-term viability of an important part of the safety net.
Barbara Sard, the Center’s vice president for housing policy, testified at a hearing of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity today in support of a draft bill that would improve the “Section 8” housing voucher program and streamline policies common to HUD’s other rental assistance programs. Here’s an excerpt: