CHN: Roukema Introduces Affordable Housing Plan

Far-Reaching Bill Covers Range of Affordable Housing Issues
On March 19, Representative Marge Roukema (R-NJ) put forth her plan to address the nation’s affordable housing crisis with the introduction of omnibus legislation, HR 3995 – Housing Affordability for America Act of 2002. Advocates are encouraged that the bill contains major provisions specifically aimed at increasing the availability of adequate housing for very low and extremely low-income people. However, there are concerns that some portions of the measure could have detrimental effects on the ability of low-income people to acquire and keep affordable housing.

A component of the measure welcomed by advocates is the addition of the “thrifty production voucher” (TPV) proposal. This provision would provide housing subsidies for extremely low-income people by establishing a project-based voucher to be used in cases of new construction or substantial rehabilitation. Use of the TPV would be limited to 25 percent of the units in a property, and those units would be designated for extremely low-income people.

Another component of the bill would amend the HOME Investment Partnership Program – a federal block grant used by states and localities to meet their most pressing low-income housing needs – to increase the production and preservation of housing targeted specifically at very low and extremely low-income households. No new funding is included in the bill for this program however; instead, recaptured Section 8 monies would be directed toward this purpose. The Section 8 Program provides rental assistance vouchers to low-income people for use in the private housing market.

In addition, the measure would remove the Fair Market Rent (FMR) as a measuring tool for determining HOME project rent levels. In places with low FMRs, this proposal would make HOME projects more financially viable. However, the initiative could also result in putting these units financially out of reach for voucher-holders.

While HR 3995 contains some potentially promising elements, advocates argue that it also includes public housing provisions that could threaten resident involvement in decision-making. Under the measure, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would be allowed to waive a current requirement that individual Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) have resident commissioners. The bill would also allow small PHAs to suspend a requirement that they submit annual plans. Advocates assert that this proposal will inhibit the involvement of public housing residents in decision-making and planning processes.

HR 3995 would reauthorize HUD’s homeless programs through 2004, and would fund Shelter Plus Care contract renewals through the Housing Certificate Fund until the end of fiscal year 2004. Shelter Plus Care helps provide stable housing for people with disabilities moving out of homelessness.

The measure would also extend the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act of 1996, and would extend through 2007 the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) program. Under the plan, religious organizations would be eligible to receive federal dollars to run the supportive housing programs for the elderly and disabled.

Representative Roukema, who chairs the Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee, is expected to hold three hearings on the bill before it is marked up. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2001 – which would provide the resources to build and preserve 1.5 million units of rental housing for the lowest income families over the next 10 years – is expected to be part of those discussions.

Housing and Homelessness