CHN: Improvements to Housing Assistance Programs Head to President

In a win for low-income advocates and a rare act of overwhelming bipartisanship, the Senate on July 14 unanimously passed a bill that will make federal housing assistance programs more efficient and effective, improving lives for low-income families. The Housing Opportunities through Modernization Act (H.R. 3700) will update and streamline rental assistance programs to help expand access to higher-opportunity neighborhoods, address homelessness, support renovation of public housing, strengthen work incentives, ease administrative burdens and trim program costs. As the bill passed the House with unanimous support in February, the bill now heads to President Obama’s desk for his signature; it will be the first time a major piece of authorizing legislation affecting vouchers and public housing has been enacted since 1998.

The bill improves low-income families’ access to areas with low poverty and crime and high-performing schools by enabling state and local housing agencies to use project-based vouchers where it is difficult to use tenant-based vouchers. (Project-based vouchers are rent subsidies attached to specific housing units; tenant-based vouchers are provided directly to households, which then look for apartments that will accept them.)  While most able-bodied recipients of rental assistance already work, the bill improves work incentives by delaying rent increases for families when their earnings rise. It also strengthens voucher assistance for former foster children, who face a high risk of homelessness.

In addition to providing common-sense changes to public housing and rental assistance that will improve residents’ quality of life, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the bill would reduce program costs by $311 million over five years. This savings means that more families could be helped with the existing level of funding. Senators Tim Scott (R-SC), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Chris Coons (D-DE) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) championed the bill.

For more information on H.R. 3700, see this resource page from the Center on Budget and Policy Prioritiesthis piece from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the March 14 Human Needs Report.

Housing and Homelessness