Congress Funds HUD at Highest Level in Decade; Housing Reforms Attached to HUD Appropriations

By Whitman, Cameron | Nation's Cities Weekly, October 19, 1998 | Go to article overview

Congress Funds HUD at Highest Level in Decade; Housing Reforms Attached to HUD Appropriations


Whitman, Cameron, Nation's Cities Weekly


Housing Reforms Attached to HUD Appropriations

NLC President Brian O'Neill expressed the sentiments of most local officials when he responded to the recent agreement in Washington on 1999 funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and reform of the public and Section 8 housing programs. "We have some good news for cities with passage of the highest funding levels in ten years for federal housing and community development programs. Added to this, there is also a final consensus on public and Section 8 housing reforms after four years of contentious debate between Congress and the White House."

The final agreement rejected House efforts to impose new federal sanctions and problems on cities, provided modest increases in resources for housing and community development, but could leave cities and towns with significant new housing needs for their lowest income families.

"This housing reform legislation," HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo said, "is based on the theory that public housing must be transformed from segregated ghettos of poverty and despair into economically integrated communities of opportunity where work is encouraged and rewarded." The legislation would change public housing admissions policies for new families to reduce low-income and racial concentrations. To accomplish this, it would enable more moderate-income working families to live in public housing where the poorest residents on welfare are now concentrated, while providing some additional Section 8 vouchers for the very poor to use in the private rental market.

In this period of fiscal restraint, the CDBG and HOME block grant programs received slight increases over last year, Section 8 renewals were fully funded, homeless assistance increased by 18 percent, and the public housing capital fund got a boost of $500 million over last year's level of $2.5 billion. (See chart for more details.)

"The housing reforms, agreed on in the final version of H.R. 2, public and Section 8 housing reforms, will eliminate many of the uncertainties of the last four years and should help cities, their public housing authorities (PHAs), and residents, receiving or needing federally assisted housing, to move forward based on permanent law instead of the temporary fixes of the last few years," O'Neill said.

The primary issues of concern to cities in the original version of H.R. 2 were eliminated and/or improved in the House and Senate conference agreement. NLC succeeded in:

* Preventing the repeal of the "U.S. Housing Act of 1937" which established a federal commitment to help the country's neediest families have access to affordable, decent, safe and sanitary housing through the creation of federally funded public housing;

* Eliminating the CDBG sanctions imposed on cities with public housing authorities (PHA) which HUD determines to be troubled. These proposed sanctions would have allowed HUD to withhold or redirect a city's Community Development Block Grant if the agency ruled that the local PHA was troubled due to the action or inactions of the local government; and

* Increasing the number of public and Section 8 units available for the very poor, which had been reduced dramatically in the original bill. …

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