Vice President for Housing Policy
Wednesday’s ABC “Nightline” story on misspent funds and poor living conditions in public housing run by three local agencies didn’t adequately explain the causes of these problems — or proposals that could help address them.
The abuses in Philadelphia, the main focus of the report, highlight a major blind spot in federal oversight of housing assistance: an experimental program known as Moving to Work (MTW). This misnamed program, which actually does little to support employment, exempts Philadelphia and 32 other agencies from many federal rules meant to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent as intended, making effective oversight by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) more difficult.
Some MTW agencies have used this flexibility responsibly. But as the Center warned a year ago, overall these agencies provide housing assistance to many fewer families per dollar of federal funding than other agencies do. That leaves tens of thousands of families on waiting lists, even though the money is available to assist them.
HUD needs additional tools to rectify bad housing conditions more expeditiously in MTW and non-MTW agencies alike. The Transforming Rental Assistance proposal, which the President proposed in his 2011 budget and was introduced in the last Congress, would give it some of those tools, such as the ability to compel an agency to hire new management for a property and to allocate available capital funds to meet emergency needs.
Transforming Rental Assistance would also use market mechanisms to help ensure that publicly owned housing provides decent homes to the vulnerable families and individuals it serves:
Public housing performs a critical role, providing affordable homes to 2.3 million low-income Americans, large numbers of whom are elderly or have a disability. HUD and Congress need to make sure it does so both effectively and efficiently, by making the necessary policy changes as well as providing additional oversight.