CHN: Senate Passes Bills Funding Housing Programs

AThe Senate passed its FY ’08 Transportation, HUD and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, HR 3074, this week by an 88-7 vote.  Like the House whose bill passed in July, the Senate rejected cuts proposed by the President to key programs that house low-income families, seniors, and persons with disabilities.  Among those cuts were $415 million in the public housing capital fund,  $635 million in the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, $160 million for Section 202 housing for the elderly, and $112 million for Section 811 housing for persons with disabilities.
The Bush Administration has been reducing the number of rental vouchers not through funding cuts but by the way it runs the program.  The Section 8 rental assistance program, HUD’s largest program, has lost 150,000 of its 2 million vouchers the last few years because HUD has insisted on using a formula to reimburse local Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) that did not adequately reflect program costs, thus forcing the authorities to issue fewer vouchers.  The Senate bill fixes the voucher formula and increases funding to begin to restore some of the lost vouchers.  HUD’s second largest program, the Section 8 project based rental assistance program, funds contracts with owners of private housing units who agree to rent units to low-income households at fair market rent rates.  HUD has refused to tell Congress how much will be needed to renew contracts that will expire in FY ’08.  Instead HUD provided only an estimate that advocates believe may be as much as $2 billion under the actual cost.  While neither House nor Senate bills add as much as may be needed to meet actual costs, the House provided $6.2 billion, or $700 million more than the Senate for project based contracts.

The President requested nearly $48 billion in discretionary funding for the entire bill.  The Senate bill, H.R. 3074, exceeds the President’s request by $3.1 billion with much of the addition funding coming in HUD programs.  The House bill is $2.8 billion over the request.  In a letter threatening to veto the Senate bill the Administration cited HUD programs that are above the President’s request including CDBG, Section 8 rental assistance, Section 202 and 811 housing, and funding for Rural Housing and Economic Development, Brownfields and HOPE VI, three programs the President zeroed out.  The letter also chides the Senate for failing to provide funding for the President’s signature American Dream Downpayment Initiative for first-time homebuyers.  While much of the bill’s additional funding is in HUD programs, the Administration also opposes the additional funding for Amtrak.

In its letter commenting on the bill, the Administration expressed opposition to an amendment offered by Subcommittee Chairwoman Murray (D-WA) in response to the bridge collapse in Minneapolis.  Murray’s amendment would increase by $1 billion the limit on how much can be released from the Highway Trust Fund for bridge repair.  The amendment passed by a vote of 60-33.  While the money does not add to the discretionary total, the Administration worries that it would hasten depletion of the Trust Fund.  Another amendment that passed and was opposed by the Administration was offered by Senators Dorgan (D-NC) and Specter (R-PA) barring funding of a recently implemented Department of Transportation pilot program that would have allowed up to 100 Mexican trucking companies to operate in the United States beyond a 25-mile radius of the border.  An amendment failed which would have waived the Davis-Bacon rules requiring that workers under federal contracts be paid the prevailing local (union) wage for maintenance and replacement of aging bridges.

Now that both the House and Senate have passed their Transportation/HUD bills, it is unclear whether the bill will be voted on as a separate bill or whether it will move in combination with some or all of the other appropriations bills.  While it received a veto-proof majority of support in the Senate it failed to garner two-thirds of the votes needed to override a veto in the House, passing 268-153.

Housing and Homelessness