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Streamlining Federal Rental Assistance

October 22, 2015 at 11:15 AM

A bill that the House Financial Services Committee will likely consider in the coming weeks would simplify administration of federal rental assistance programs through reforms that have received broad bipartisan support.  As this excerpt from my testimony on the Housing Opportunities through Modernization Act (HOTMA) explains:

The reforms in the bill would substantially reduce administrative burdens for state and local housing agencies and private owners while giving them added flexibility to further key goals such as reducing homelessness, improving access to higher-opportunity neighborhoods, and addressing repair needs in public housing.  At the same time, the reforms would leave in place the core characteristics that have helped make federal rental assistance effective.

The bill would make particularly important improvements in three areas: 

  • Simplifying rules for setting tenant rent payments, while continuing to maintain key affordability protections.
  • Streamlining housing quality inspections in the voucher program to encourage private owners to participate and enable families to occupy their homes more quickly.
  • Providing added flexibility to “project-base” vouchers to support affordable housing development and preservation and enable more homeless families or individuals with disabilities to live in appropriate housing.

Congress has considered most of these provisions for much of the last decade as part of the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) and the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act (AHSSIA), which have received broad support from both parties and a wide range of stakeholders.  Congress should move promptly to advance HOTMA and refrain from adding controversial provisions that could delay or block the bill’s enactment.  In addition, Congress could extend the bill’s positive impact by adding provisions in two other areas that SEVRA, AHSSIA, and other bipartisan bills have addressed:

  • Strengthening the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which offers housing assistance recipients job counseling and incentives to work and save.
  • Making the rental assistance admissions process fairer by limiting screening to criteria related to suitability as a tenant.

The nation needs its housing assistance programs to be as efficient and effective as possible, I explained, and HOTMA would take major steps toward that goal.  Congress should enact these reforms promptly.

Click here for the full testimony.

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