Friday, November 4, 2011

Rental Assistance Demonstration gets positive reviews from legislators

by Sarah Jawaid, National Housing Conference

Yesterday, the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on the Rental Assistance Demonstration, the Administration’s proposal on recapitalizations of public housing as well as older forms of rental assistance such as RAP, Rent Supplement, and Mod Rehab. Providing the option for public housing and others to be converted into long-term project-based Section 8 contracts would provide opportunities for private investment to fund needed capital improvements. Since the current proposal does not have incremental funding attached, however, the scope of properties and capital needs that could be addressed is somewhat narrow.

At the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Judy Biggert (R-IL) and other Republicans praised the program for its resourcefulness of using existing funds since the legislation states no specific dollar amount, even though HUD requested $200 million initially. Democrats Ellison (D-MN) and Cleaver (D-MO) introduced the bill but did share some hesitation over whether or not bringing in private capital would privatize the nation’s public housing stock, setting a precedent for the government’s role in providing housing to the most in need. Democrats also raised concerns over the loss of units if a one to one replacement of units was not made clear up front. In response, Sandra B. Henriquez, Assistant Secretary, Public and Indian Housing, Department of Housing and Urban Development, said for the most part, the program aims to do one to one replacements but cannot fully guarantee this to happen in every instance. Ultimately, legislators showed their approval of this demonstration’s ability to allow public housing authorities to test, evaluate and identify ways to preserve public housing stock as well as document input from residents. Other testimonies shared praises of the program for attracting private capital, creating long-term stability and affordability for families, tax incentives, effective use of public ownership and allowing families to have more choice.

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