SDHC's Gentry Urges Congress to Support Local Innovation

On February 21 in Washington, D.C., the J. Ronald Terwilliger Foundation for Housing America’s Families hosted a Congressional Staff Briefing on The State of Affordable Housing in the United States, where presenters included Former U.S. Senator Scott Brown (R-MA), Urban Institute Housing Finance Policy Center Co-Director Laurie Goodman, and San Diego Housing Authority Commission (SDHC) President and Chief Executive Officer Richard C. Gentry.

In his presentation, Richard Gentry – a public housing veteran with almost 45 years of service and leadership – presented his observations regarding specific Federal low-income housing programs operated by local public housing agencies, and highlighted the unique approach that SDHC has taken to address the housing needs of low-income and homeless San Diegans.

Gentry immediately posed the question of whether or not the most effective way to manage decisions about financial assistance in housing should come from the federal or local level, a question that PHAs are well-equipped to answer. After emphasizing that jurisdictions throughout the country have unique housing needs, Gentry posited that decisions about public housing assistance are most effective when made at the local level and, “made at the level closest to the jurisdiction.” His plea to Congress: “More local decision-making is needed in the United States today.

After giving a brief history about public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Rental Assistance, Gentry got into specifics about the challenges of uniformly implementing a “top-down, one-size-fits-all, centralized, command-and-control housing program across the nation.

“I believe that the United States’ traditional public housing program is no longer viable in its current form to continue serving the needs of low-income Americans,” Gentry said. “In a country as large and diverse as the United States, a public housing program with centralized mandated rules does not work. This is not a denigration of the low-income individuals and families who live in public housing or those who operate the program. However, the program’s structure is flawed and needs to be changed to more efficiently use taxpayer resources to serve the housing needs of low-income Americans.”

Ultimately, Gentry’s message to Congress is to better incorporate the resources and innovative practices that public housing authorities are already using, and to focus on doing so at the local level as much as possible. Investing in programs, including Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, Moving to Work, Rental Assistance Demonstration, and Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing would provide the flexibility needed to more efficiently and effectively meet the unique needs of each jurisdiction. Housing needs will best be met when the government and the private sector work together and support the practitioners who operate locally.