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Biden wants more housing units as Hill Democrats urge rental aid

Caitlin Reilly, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Business News

Once Senate leadership agrees on a total amount for housing, Brown’s committee would be tasked to decide how to spend it. He said, also without naming an amount, that public housing repair and rental vouchers are likely to get the biggest allocations.

Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., a member of the Banking Committee, said he’s trying to get funds in the bill to create 500,000 of what he calls “mobility” vouchers over five years. His proposal is part of a bill co-sponsored by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind. Mobility vouchers would have support services attached with the goal of moving families to neighborhoods with better opportunities, including education or jobs.

“We think we’re well-positioned,” Van Hollen said.

The House

Torres and other Democrats, including 17 other House Financial Services members, have urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to include a “major housing voucher expansion” in an infrastructure package, saying it would pave the way for full coverage of eligible households.

In their letter to Pelosi and McCarthy, the lawmakers didn’t put a price on their rental subsidies. They did ask for $70 billion to repair public housing and $45 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund, a HUD program that sends block grants to states, primarily to provide and maintain rental housing.

Waters has the most financially ambitious proposal. She would spend $600 billion over an unspecified time, nearly three times the amount Biden has in his initial infrastructure proposal.

Waters’ bill would also address housing on every front: $150 billion for rental subsidies, $75 billion for public housing repairs, $45 billion for the Housing Trust Fund and $35 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, a separate HUD initiative.

A separate bill in Waters’ package would offer 500,000 new vouchers in fiscal 2022 and 1 million each year through fiscal 2025, and then make rental vouchers an entitlement.

 

Appropriations

The fiscal 2022 appropriations work — the House began floor action on a package of seven bills on Tuesday — has greater emphasis on vouchers from both the administration and lawmakers. Biden’s fiscal 2022 budget request in May asked for 200,000 new vouchers.

The House Transportation-HUD spending bill instead would provide $1 billion for 125,000 new vouchers. Combined with the rising cost of renewing existing vouchers, that would increase total spending on Section 8 tenant-based rental vouchers to $29.2 billion for 2022.

The House bill would give modest increases to HUD programs that support the construction of new affordable homes, especially spending targeting vulnerable groups: $8.64 billion to support public housing, with $3.4 billion set aside for repairs; $1 billion to build about 2,200 affordable homes for the elderly; $352 million to build about 1,800 units for people with disabilities; and $1.85 billion for the HOME Investment Partnership Program.

Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, chairman of the Senate Transportation-HUD Appropriations Subcommittee, said he’s working with committee Republicans to create more vouchers in the Senate’s fiscal 2022 spending bill. He didn’t say how many more.

Schatz said Congress also has to appropriate money to help HUD recover from an 18.5 percent decline in staff members from 2008 to 2017, a drop that a 2019 inspector general’s report said exceeded that of any other department. Schatz said HUD hasn’t distributed 70,000 to 80,000 available vouchers.

“It’s very fun for politicians to say, ‘Not a penny goes to administrative expenses,’” Schatz said. “But when you’re pushing out housing vouchers, someone has to actually do the work.”

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