House Financial Services Committee Holds Hearing on the Future of Public Housing

Date Published: 
February 6th, 2020

On February 5, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing, Community Development, and Insurance held a hearing entitled “A Future Without Public Housing? Examining the Trump Administration’s Efforts to Eliminate Public Housing.” In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman William Lacy Clay (D-MO) declared, “it is no secret that since taking office, President Trump, along with his chosen operator Secretary Ben Carson, has been on a mission to end public housing as we know it.” Clay pointed to HUD’s budget requests that gut the capital and operating funds, and  the Department’s focus on portfolio repositioning, which he characterized as an overly prescriptive and aggressive effort to replace all public housing with vouchers.

Clay raised concerns that the failure to preserve public housing and its tenant protections in favor of a market-based, voucher-only model dependent on private landlords could make it harder for low-income families to secure stable housing. He also expressed support for the “Housing is Infrastructure Act of 2019,” which includes a $70 billion investment in public housing.

The hearing featured testimony from two CLPHA members – Eugene Jones Jr., CEO of Atlanta Housing, and Ann Gass, director of strategic housing initiatives for the Housing Authority of the City of Austin. Bobby Collins, executive director of the Housing Authority of the City of Shreveport, also represented the PHA perspective. Offering a tenant perspective were Susan Popkin, senior fellow at the Urban Institute, and Kate Walz, vice president of advocacy for the Shriver Center on Poverty Law.

Jones, Gass, and Collins described the deleterious effects of chronic underfunding on property conditions in their communities and how their agencies use the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program to make capital improvements amid such an inadequate funding environment. They emphasized resident engagement in the conversion process and described RAD as an important tool to preserve public housing and revitalize surrounding communities.

Popkin, who is part of the research team reviewing RAD, noted in her testimony that the current evaluation shows encouraging results. In addition to preserving over 110,000 units, the evaluation shows that residents are satisfied with multiple aspects of RAD, including PHA communication and post-conversion conditions. Walz focused on public housing at small PHAs, where agencies have more challenges in using RAD as a preservation strategy.

RAD-related questions from subcommittee members primarily focused on tenant protections during conversions and the permanent affordability of RAD units. Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) reiterated her concerns about the long-term financial health of converted units and her discomfort with private financing of a public good. All of the witnesses agreed that RAD is one tool among many in the toolkit for preserving public housing, and that the recent evaluation indicates HUD is providing appropriate oversight of the program and protecting tenant rights throughout the conversion process.

Written testimony and a video recording of the hearing can be found on the Committee website.

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