CHN: House Panel Approves Affordable Housing Bill

Housing Trust Fund Amendment Substantially Limited
On Tuesday, July 9, the House Financial Services Committee finished marking up HR 3995, an affordable housing bill introduced by Rep. Marge Roukema (R-NJ) last March. The bill contains major provisions specifically aimed at increasing the availability of adequate housing for very low and extremely low-income people, in addition to authorizing funds for a variety of federal housing programs and overhauling some housing regulations.

The committee began marking up the omnibus housing package on June 20, approving several amendments to the measure. The most contentious amendment to pass – offered by Rep. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) – would have created a National Housing Trust Fund from Federal Housing Administration (FHA) mortgage insurance profits to build, rehabilitate, and preserve 1.5 million units of low-income housing over the next 10 years.

Anticipating that opponents would attempt to reverse the vote on the Trust Fund amendment, Sanders offered a similar amendment in the panel’s second meeting that would have made rental-housing construction subject to annual appropriations – instead of using FHA revenue. Nevertheless, this amendment was rejected by a 35-34 vote and the original Sanders amendment was also defeated. The Trust Fund amendment was replaced with a significantly more limited measure – offered by Rep. Sue Kelly (R-NY) – that would provide federal matching funds to states and localities with existing housing trust funds.

While members of the National Housing Trust Fund Campaign are disappointed with the new amendment because it will provide substantially less money for affordable housing, advocates are optimistic that the momentum created in the House will carry over to the Senate. Having garnered the support of 194 members of the House, the Campaign – made up of more than 2,880 organizations nationwide – is poised to take on the Senate, where 27 cosponsors have already signed onto Trust Fund legislation (S 1248).

Committee Democrats also rallied around an amendment – sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) – that would have reauthorized through 2005 a drug elimination program aimed at curbing drug use in subsidized housing developments. Republicans cited what they called inherent programmatic problems and past fraud and abuse as reasons to oppose the amendment. The hotly debated amendment was defeated by voice vote, but the issue is likely to come up again as the bill moves forward.

It is unclear whether the housing package will pass, should it reach the House floor. In the Senate, Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-MD) may introduce a scaled-back version of the measure, specifically modifying the Section 8 voucher program.

Housing and Homelessness