by Rebekah King and Kaitlyn Snyder, National Housing Conference
On Sept. 21, House and Senate subcommittees engaged in discussions about how to make federal affordable housing programs work better to meet growing housing need and ensure these programs help families achieve upward economic mobility. NHC welcomes this congressional interest. We are hopeful that this is the start of a more substantive discussion about how the affordable housing community can improve and innovate to serve more families as well as some recognition of the need for more federal resources to meet these challenges. The House Financial Services, Housing and Insurances subcommittee hearing was titled, “The Future of Housing In America: A Better Way to Increase Efficiencies For Housing Vouchers and Create Upward Economic Mobility,” and the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development subcommittee hearing was titled, “Housing Vulnerable Families and Individuals: Is There a Better Way?”
Similar themes emerged in the two hearings. Vouchers offer families the ability to move into neighborhoods of their choice and are a cost-effective housing solution. Public housing is not adequately funded and has not been for years, putting stress on residents, properties, and housing authorities alike. Given that reality, many housing authorities have become more efficient and innovative, but structural challenges remain. Both vouchers and public housing are important components of federally assisted housing and could be improved to run more efficiently. At times, the discussion in the hearings veered into whether vouchers should become the primary housing program. This idea that one strategy is sufficient is illogical as it will do nothing to increase the supply of units affordable to voucherholders. As Ms. Deborah Thrope of the National Housing Law Project noted in her testimony before House Financial Services, vouchers should be part of a national approach to address housing stability that also includes preservation and community revitalization. A proposal to both expand the housing voucher program and the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program is a much more realistic and effective place to focus as it both increases renter incomes and the number of units and locations they can choose from.
This discussion highlights key issues that NHC has been exploring: placemaking, mobility and the future of public housing. As OMB Director Shaun Donovan discussed at the Urban Institute’s recent event on Promoting Economic Mobility: Putting Evidence to Action for Communities, “we’ve got to get past this old, tired [question of whether] people or place matter more. Should we be helping folks move out of places that don’t have opportunity or should we be fixing those places? YES! The answer is yes! Both! And let’s go do it and stop arguing about it.” Mobility through housing choice vouchers is an important strategy to addressing housing insecurity. Investing in neighborhoods and communities so that residents can remain and have access to opportunity is also vital.
At our Solutions for Affordable Housing convening on Dec. 14 we’ll tackle placemaking and mobility in a special double session. NHC’s Ethan Handelman will moderate two back-to-back panels focused on creating housing and opportunity. During the first panel on placemaking speakers will discuss new ideas in placemaking and explore how emerging best practices connect with pathways for new residents.
- Ted Chandler, AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust
- David Cristeal, Arlington County
- Chrystal Kornegay, Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development
- Carol Naughton, Purpose Built Communities
- Marisa Novara, Metropolitan Planning Council
- Barbara Sard, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
- Celia Smoot, LISC
Moderator: Kristin Siglin, Housing Partnership Network
- Orlando Cabrera, Squire Patton Boggs
- Michael Liu, Miami-Dade County DHCD
- David Smith, Recap Advisors and Affordable Housing Institute
- Shauna Sorrells, Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission
We hope you’ll join us for these important and timely discussions.