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Podcast: Will Fischer, Senior Policy Analyst, on the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act

In this podcast, we’ll discuss the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act, or SEVRA. I’m Keri Fulton, and we are joined by Senior Policy Analyst, Will Fischer.

1. Will, you testified before Congress about SEVRA. Before we discuss the bill, can you explain what a housing voucher is?

A: Yeah. A housing voucher helps a family rent a modest housing unit of their choice in the private market. The family pays 30% of their income for rent and then the voucher covers the rest. And the voucher program is the country’s biggest low-income housing assistance program, and it’s been found to be really effective in helping fight homelessness and also and helping families to move to lower poverty neighborhoods.

2. So what is the Section Eight Voucher Reform Act?

A: The Section Eight Voucher Reform Act, or SEVRA as they call it, would make a whole bunch of improvements to the voucher program. It’s been a long time since there’s been legislation updating the program. It works well, but this would make a whole bunch of different changes to make it work better, including provisions that would allow the program to stretch funding further so that more families can receive assistance with the funding that’s provided to the program.

3. Why is now an important time to pass this legislation into law?

A: Well, because of the economic downturn that’s going on, unemployment’s been rising, and poverty’s been rising, and as a result of those things, homelessness has been going up and there’s a lot more need out there for housing assistance. Already, before this, only one in four families that are eligible for vouchers receive any kind of housing assistance. And so now, more than ever, it’s really urgent to make this program work well and make it work as efficiently as it can.

4. Should Congress make any changes to the way SEVRA is currently designed?

A: Well, SEVRA’s an excellent bill as it’s designed now. They really took on a lot of complicated issues and came up with really well-crafted, good solutions to them. One thing that would be helpful that could be added to SEVRA is a provision that would expand the use of vouchers to help revitalize public housing by allowing public housing developments to be converted to what’s called “project-based” vouchers, which can be tied to a particular building, and as a result can support preservation of affordable housing developments. There’s one provision that could well be added to the bill that carries some significant risks, and that’s an expansion of HUDS Moving to Work Demonstration.

5. So what is the Moving to Work Demonstration?

A: Moving to Work, or MTW, is a demonstration that’s meant to allow experimentation in housing policy by allowing agencies lots more flexibility to run their programs. It’s done some good things, some innovative, promising policies, but also some really harsh policies like increasing rents on tenants or time limits or cut-off assistance, even for working poor families who can’t afford housing without it. As Congress considers Moving to Work, if they do include an expansion, it should have strict tenant protections. It should have rigorous valuation requirements so they learn real, concrete lessons from the program, and it should have some requirements to make sure that housing agencies make good use of government funds and use the funds for the purposes that they’re intended for.

6. So what’s likely to happen next with SEVRA?

A: Well, the next step is that SEVRA will be formally introduced in Congress, in the House. And then after that there will be a markup in the House Financial Services Committee. They’ll consider amendments to the bill and vote to approve it.

Thank you for joining us, Will.