Rep. Waters Introduces Legislation to Curtail the MTW Program

On July 29, shortly before the U.S. House left town to begin their mandatory August recess, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), ranking member of the Financial Services Committee, introduced HR 3424, the ‘‘Moving to Work Reform Act of 2015,’’ co-sponsored by Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) a senior member of the committee. This is the second bill regarding the Moving to Work program introduced in the U.S. House during this legislative session (see CLPHA Action Alert 7/9/15).

According to Waters, HR 3424 would, “reform a controversial demonstration program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) known as the ‘Moving to Work’ (MTW) program” and “seeks to address many of the known shortcomings of the current demonstration program by requiring HUD to subject all future MTW agreements to several new terms and conditions. Specifically, the bill requires any major policy shifts, such as changes in time limits, work requirements, or raising rent burdens for participating families, to undergo rigorous evaluation before taking effect.” 

The bill specifies that these policy changes will be subject to a “detailed evaluation using a rigorous research methodology which includes, at least in part, random assignment to treatment and control groups to compare the impact on assisted families (including families that cease to receive assistance during the term of the evaluation) to similar families not subject to such policy change.” Additionally, HUD must determine that adequate federal or other resources are available to undertake the required evaluation. The implication of this requirement is that if the evaluation resources are not available, the policy change cannot occur.

The bill limits the use of tenant-based rental assistance to no more than 10 percent for non-voucher or “other eligible purposes” subject to HUD established requirements. The bill also requires renewal of tenant-based rental assistance “using the same formula applied to public housing agencies that do not participate in the demonstration, except that up to 10 percent of such funds may be renewed by adjusting the prior year’s funding by an inflation factor determined by the Secretary.”

The bill prohibits the reduction of families assisted under the MTW program, requiring a public housing agency (PHA) to provide housing assistance with average cost burdens no higher than those of families assisted under Section 8 and public housing “to substantially the same number of eligible low-income families as the agency could assist if it expended the full amount of funding it receives under such sections 8 and 9...”

Also, if HUD determines that a disproportionately low share of public housing or housing choice voucher families live in “neighborhoods with low crime, high-performing schools, or other indicators of high opportunity, the public housing agency shall develop and implement a plan to expand families’ access to such neighborhoods.”

PHAs shall receive funding for the operation and management of public housing “using the same formula applied to public housing agencies that do not participate in the demonstration,” except current MTW agencies that receive public housing funding under an alternative formula established by its agreement, HUD shall phase in this requirement “in a manner sufficient so as to avoid reducing funding by more than 10 percent per year.”

The bill also includes a section on retained provisions, prohibiting HUD from waiving certain provisions of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, for MTW agencies.  The provisions include targeting for new admissions; tenant representatives on the public housing agency board of directors; definitions for the  terms ‘‘low-income families,’’ ‘‘very low-income families,’’ and ‘‘extremely low-income families’’; formation of and consultation with a resident advisory board; compliance of units assisted with housing quality standards or other codes; grievance procedures for public housing tenants; designation of housing for elderly and disabled households; records, certification and confidentiality regarding domestic violence; rights of applicants; public housing lease requirements; lease requirements and eviction protections for families assisted with tenant-based assistance; the 20 percent portfolio cap on the use of voucher funds for project-based vouchers, with certain exceptions; the ability of families with project-based vouchers to move using tenant-based vouchers; and the portability of vouchers.

The bill requires HUD to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of MTW and submit a report to Congress “(1) describing and analyzing the risks and potential benefits of expanding the Moving to Work demonstration program to additional agencies compared to those of maintaining the demonstration  program at its current size; and (2) identifying reforms, and selection criteria in case the demonstration program is expanded, that would improve the program’s effectiveness in testing innovative policies while minimizing adverse effects on low-income families and ensuring efficient use of Federal funds to meet the most pressing housing needs.”

The bill represents a departure and retreat from Rep. Waters’ previous position on the MTW program, when in 2007, as chair of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity of the Financial Services Committee, Waters sponsored legislation that would have expanded the program by 80 agencies.

HR 3424 was referred to the House Committee on Financial Services.

Return to: CLPHA Report -August 6, 2015