BEYOND THE NUMBERS
The Senate is expected this week to begin considering a package of four fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills, including one to fund Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs. The package’s HUD title deserves senators’ strong support, for the following reasons:
- It fully renews the critical aid that currently enables 3.4 million low-income households to rent modest homes in the private market at an affordable cost. The vast majority of these households are working families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. Without the assistance they receive, these low-income families would struggle to pay rent and make ends meet, and a significant share would likely experience homelessness. The Senate bill boosts funding — to a total of $22.8 billion for housing vouchers and $11.7 billion for Section 8 project-based rental assistance — to adequately cover the rising cost of private market rents and avert cuts in the number of households receiving assistance.
- It includes $94 million for 11,000 new housing vouchers for homeless veterans, people with disabilities, and youth who have recently exited foster care and are at high risk of homelessness. It also increases homeless assistance grant funding by $99 million, to $2.6 billion. While much more must be done to help more vulnerable families to afford a stable home in which to live, these provisions are a step in the right direction.
- It provides $7.5 billion for the operation, maintenance, and repair of public housing, which remains home to nearly 1 million low-income households, mostly seniors and people with disabilities. In 2018, housing agencies will receive the largest infusion of funds to repair and rehabilitate public housing since 2009, which they badly need to make repairs such as fixing leaky roofs, replacing broken or outdated heating and cooling systems, and upgrading building security systems. The Senate bill would increase overall funding for public housing by about 3 percent over 2018, not counting losses due to inflation.
Overall, the Senate bill provides $54 billion for HUD programs in 2019, about $1.3 billion more than in 2018. Even with this increase, however, the Senate bill is frugal — total HUD program funding remains about 2 percent below the 2010 level, adjusted for inflation. (These figures are gross budget authority, and do not reflect adjustments for receipts associated with HUD’s mortgage insurance programs.)
The Senate bill is stronger than the counterpart bill that the House Appropriations Committee approved on May 23. The House bill provides $800 million less for HUD programs than the Senate bill — including $400 million less to renew housing vouchers, which would leave nearly 50,000 housing vouchers that families are using this year without renewal funds in 2019.
When Congress negotiates final HUD program funding levels later this year, it should therefore largely accept the Senate bill funding provisions over those of the House bill, with one exception. The House bill contains an important provision that could significantly improve low-income children’s chances of succeeding in school and as adults when their families have access to housing vouchers: $50 million for an innovative mobility demonstration to help more children in families with vouchers grow up in neighborhoods with quality schools and other opportunities.
The House recently approved, almost unanimously, the Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration Act (H.R. 5793) sponsored by Reps. Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO), which would authorize the mobility demonstration but not provide any funding. Senators Todd Young (R-IN) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have introduced similar legislation (S. 2945) in the Senate. Unlike the House Appropriations Committee, the Senate Appropriations Committee didn't include the demonstration in its HUD funding bill, but Congress should do so when it finalizes HUD funding legislation.