Thursday, July 16, 2015

House subcommittee hearing discusses strengths and challenges of HUD’s public and Indian housing programs

by Rebekah King, National Housing Conference

On July 10, 2015, the Housing and Insurance Subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on the future of housing in America and the oversight of public and Indian housing. Testimony from Ms. Lourdes Castro Ramirez, principal deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), highlighted how HUD has been working to improve its public and Indian housing programs, how well the programs function and their limited success at reaching more households without greater funding. Testimony from Mr. Daniel Garcia-Diaz, director of financial markets and community investments for the Government Accountability Office (GAO), showed that some public and Indian housing programs do have room for improvements, but his statement also recognized the active approach HUD was taking to address many of GAO’s concerns. Some committee members questioned the efficiency of the public and Indian housing programs and others raised concern about the Moving to Work (MTW) program; in response Ms. Castro Ramirez highlighted the strengths of PIH programs and HUD’s recent and ongoing efforts to improve PIH programs.

Ms. Castro Ramirez testified first, discussing the growth of the public housing programs and improvements that have been made over time. Since 1965, public housing and housing choice vouchers moved from serving 600,000 households to serving over 4.6 million. Public housing agencies (PHAs) have a 96 percent occupancy rate and a 98 percent utilization rate for vouchers. Ms. Castro Ramirez also discussed how public housing programs have been underfunded for decades, making it difficult to preserve the current supply or create new units.

Mr. Garcia-Diaz testified about recent GAO studies of PIH programs and explained that HUD is actively working to address many of GAO’s recommendations including streamlining administration of the voucher program, beginning to provide guidance on how to handle public housing reserve funds and developing outcomes information and reporting measures for the Moving to Work program. HUD has also significantly reduced improper payments since 2000.

The subsequent discussion among the committee members covered many topics within PIH, including:
  • Rep. Luetkemeyer (R- Mo.) asked about the program structure and efficiency. Ms. Castro Ramirez discussed the challenges to administer the program facing PHAs given recent cuts to the administrative fee.
  • Rep. Cleaver (D-Mo.) highlighted the strengths of the Family Self Sufficiency program. 
  • Rep. Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Velasquez (D-N.Y.) questioned the Moving to Work program and asked for HUD to provide more data on outcomes from the program. Both members expressed concern about a lack of standards and performance metrics. Rep. Royce (R-Calif.) expressed support for the MTW program because of how well it works for the San Bernardino Housing Authority. 
  • Ms. Castro Ramirez responded to the conversation around MTW with HUD’s recent efforts to strengthen agreements with the 39 MTW agencies, focusing on four areas: update administrative and legal requirements, add stronger evaluations, address funding inequities and add strong language about continuing to serve the same number of families. 
  • Rep. Pearce (R-N.M.) asked HUD to consider changes to give tribes and tribal agencies more flexibility for implementing federal Indian housing programs.

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