On July 10, the U.S. House Subcommittee on Housing and Insurance of the Financial Services Committee held a hearing entitled “The Future of Housing in America: Oversight of HUD’s Public and Indian Housing Programs.” The sole witnesses to testify were Lourdes Castro Ramirez, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Public and Indian Housing at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); and Daniel Garcia-Diaz, Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Subcommittee Chairman Blaine Luetkemeyer (R-MO) opened the hearing by noting since FY2002, the federal government has given more than $550 billion to HUD with more than 60 percent going to the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) with its 1,300 employees. He noted that a lot of time is spent discussing reform of our nation’s housing programs, particularly important during this year, HUD’s 50th year anniversary, saying “it’s time to understand what is and isn’t working… the reality is, the funding situation isn’t going to get better, simply asking for more federal dollars isn’t the solution.”
Subcommittee Ranking Member Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) responded in his opening statement by noting the important work that HUD is doing in public and Indian housing programs, particularly given that the Great Recession led to widespread loss of housing and “people across America are still trying to recover from much of what they lost.” Citing the great demand and the demographic makeup of public housing residents—with a majority as elderly, disabled and children—Cleaver sought to dispel the myth of public housing residents as unworthy or undeserving.
In her testimony, Castro Ramirez said that at HUD “ we are constantly reminded of the millions of low-income American households who are not receiving government assistance, and pay more than half of their income in rent, live in substandard housing, or both” noting that “even at current funding levels, with 96% occupancy in our public housing program and at 98% budget utilization in our HCV program, HUD is only able to provide rental assistance to 24 percent of the 19 million income-eligible households, or one of every four eligible households.”
Garcia-Diaz’s testimony covered HUD’s response to recent GAO findings regarding several HUD programs including Moving to Work (MTW) and the Family Self Sufficiency (FSS) programs. According to Garcia-Diaz of the eight recommendations made by GAO in a 2012 report on the MTW program, HUD has since implemented seven them, while two recommendations concerning FSS in a 2013 report have not yet been fully implemented by HUD. Garcia-Diaz’s testimony mentioned the progress HUD has made to (1) improve its guidance to MTW agencies by requiring that information in their annual reports be quantifiable and outcome oriented, (2) develop and implement a plan for quantitatively assessing the effectiveness of similar activities and the program as a whole, and (3) establish performance indicators for the program.
From CLPHA’s perspective, we are pleased that GAO has acknowledged the progress HUD has made to implement its recommendations, and think it is very significant in that it speaks to HUD’s increased capacity to implement an expansion of the program.
However, during the question and answer period, after subcommittee vice chairman Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) spoke positively of the tremendous progress MTW agencies have made both in his district and elsewhere, full committee ranking member Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Nita Velazquez (D-NY) questioned the success, results and outcomes of MTW and asked HUD to provide more data on the program regarding resident training, jobs, the lack of standards and overall performance metrics.
Rep. Velazquez also questioned the enforcement of Section 3 job requirements as related to the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD), declaring “I have been working on Section 3 for 20 years, and for 20 years it has been a missed opportunity, a real disaster.”
Rep. Edward Royce (R-CA) raised the issue to Castro Ramirez about the status of the MTW contract extensions, referring to the public commitment of HUD at a February 2014 MTW Summit to extend for 10 years all MTW contracts that had a rental assistance utilization rate of 90 percent or higher. Specifically referencing a letter from HUD to the San Bernardino Housing Authority on their contract extension, Royce questioned why MTW agencies have not been granted their extensions. Castro Ramirez responded that there are ongoing discussions with the existing MTW agencies about their contract extensions along with newly identified requirements necessary for the extensions.
The hearing was the sixth in a series of oversight hearings on “The Future of Housing in America” by the Financial Services Committee. Subject matter of previous oversight hearings include: HUD, Federal Housing Administration, Rural Housing Service, and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.