CLPHA: Rep. Waters' MTW Bill Would Undermine Progress In Meeting  The Housing Needs Of Low-Income Families, Seniors And People With Disabilities

For Immediate Release
Monday, August 3, 2015

Washington–Legislation recently introduced by Rep. Maxine Waters, HR 3424, the “Moving to Work Reform Act of 2015,” would undermine and reverse major progress made by housing authorities in meeting the housing needs of low-income families, seniors and persons with disabilities in their communities.  The legislation would also unduly restrict additional housing authorities from initiating more efficient and effective housing strategies. CLPHA strongly opposes the legislation.

As part of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Moving To Work (MTW) initiative, 39 housing authorities have been permitted the flexibility to use innovative approaches to improve the lives of some of our nation’s most economically vulnerable families.  Congress set three statutory goals for the program: streamlining procedures to save federal taxpayer dollars, helping residents toward economic self-sufficiency, and increasing housing choices for low-income families.

A December 2014 Abt Associates Inc. report, based on its study of current MTW agencies, documents the wide range of innovative approaches undertaken by MTW to more efficiently and effectively serve low-income households.  The report also cites an emerging “culture of innovation” at these agencies that have made them more entrepreneurial and forward-looking.

According to the report:  “…  MTW appears to have led to changes in the culture of the PHAs, encouraging them to be more proactive, more creative, and more empowered. These cultural changes appear to be the result of having a meaningful degree of freedom to vary from the rules and were evident regardless of the specific MTW changes adopted by each agency.”

Successful innovations pioneered by MTW agencies that have allowed them to be more cost-efficient—including greater flexibility in the scheduling of property inspections and tenant income recertifications as well as more flexibility between capital and operating funds—persuaded Congress to extend similar statutory relief to all housing agencies. 

There is strong bipartisan support to extend the program as evidenced by the Senate Appropriations Committee’s recently approved legislation to expand MTW to 300 housing authorities. There is widespread acknowledgment that current MTW agencies have been very effective in developing better ways to serve the needs of their local communities. That has generated significant demand from other   housing authorities to participate.  The Obama Administration also supports the expansion of MTW, as proposed in their last three annual budget requests to Congress, and is on record as supporting a much larger expansion than the Senate’s.

It should be noted that Rep. Waters, in 2007, when she chaired the House Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity of the Financial Services Committee, sponsored legislation that expanded the program by 80 agencies.

This new bill would impose significant constraints on current and future MTW agencies that would undermine the ability to continue current promising practices and curtail the development of new innovative initiatives. 

The bill would limit funding flexibility that has allowed MTW agencies to better respond to local housing market conditions, support economic self-sufficiency and improve life outcomes for those receiving housing assistance.    

For example, the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) in Washington State partnered with the Tacoma Public Schools to provide housing stability and improve educational outcomes for previously homeless children. THA provides rental assistance and individual case management for five years to 50 formerly homeless families whose children attend McCarver Elementary School.  In return parents commit to keep their children in school and to take steps to improve their own education and employment opportunities. 

When the initiative began in 2011, McCarver’s churn rate (students moving in and out of the school) was a staggering 114 percent. After the third year of the program the churn rate is down to 74 percent - significantly improving classroom stability for all students.  After just one year of the initiative, the cohort children’s reading scores increased by 22 percent and sustained gains in years two and three, performing at the same level as all the other children at the school; the mean earned income of the cohort families has more than doubled since their entry into the program and about a third of the parents improved their education and training and significantly increased their earnings.

“MTW has allowed housing authorities to operate more efficiently, preserve and improve affordable housing, and offer more and better housing choices,” said Sunia Zaterman, CLPHA’s Executive Director.  “MTW agencies are in the vanguard in developing and implementing innovative ways to improve life outcomes for low-income households. Why would we want to reverse these trends? We should be supporting and expanding this culture of innovation.”  
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The Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is a non-profit organization working to preserve and improve public and affordable housing through advocacy, research, policy analysis and public education. It represents most of the nation’s largest public housing authorities.  For news media inquiries, please contact Frank James, CLPHA Communications Director: fjames@clpha.org, or (202) 638-1300