Federal Policy Brief | September 24, 2013
For several years, advocates and congressional committee staff have been working on technical reforms to the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program, which is the federal government’s most widely-used form of low-income housing assistance, providing rental and utility payments to roughly 2 million households.
There has not been a major overhaul of Section 8 since the late-1990s. Changes are needed to improve its efficiency and protect those served. In response, the House Financial Services Committee has released a series of discussion draft bills that would make major modifications to the voucher program. Previous iterations have gone by the names of SEVRA and SESA. The most recent version, the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act (AHSSIA), includes several critical adjustments to Section 8 that are especially relevant to homeless people. This Act, however, died at the end of the 112th Congress and no comprehensive reform legislation has yet been taken up by the 113th Congress.
National and local organizations have agreed upon ten basic tenets to be included in the reform legislation, including:
• Streamlining voucher housing quality inspections and protecting families living in units where repairs are needed to meet quality standards;
• Measures to streamline rent calculations and income determinations;
• A modest raise in rental assistance income targeting limits to admit more working poor families, particularly in rural areas;
• Making housing agencies’ voucher funding allocations more stable and predictable while still permitting appropriators to set the overall annual funding level;
• Providing agencies added flexibility ability to enter into “project-based” voucher agreements to preserve and develop affordable housing;
• Making the admissions process for the housing voucher program fairer and more effective at serving homeless applicants by limiting screening to criteria related to suitability as a tenant;
• Authorizing the Rental Assistance Demonstration to test strategies to leverage private funds to address public housing capital needs and preserve units assisted through the Section 8 Moderate Rehabilitation program;
• Strengthening and making families served by the project-based Section 8 program eligible for the Family Self-Sufficiency program, which provides rental assistance recipients job counseling and financial incentives to work and save;
• Providing added flexibility for a limited number of high-capacity housing agencies to meet their local housing needs, along with essential protections safeguarding low-income families’ rights and ensuring that agencies maintain the number of families they assist; and
• Providing for HUD to make available translations of key forms and documents for assistance recipients with limited English proficiency.
There has been committee work on Section 8 reform, but no comprehensive bill has been introduced in this Congress that includes this entire package of reforms. It is likely that if such legislation passes Congress, it will be through appropriations legislation; however, the Appropriations Committees in the House and Senate are unlikely to include it without a clear signal from the authorizing committees that there is bipartisan, bicameral agreement.
The Alliance encourages Congress to enact legislation that improves the Section 8 voucher program in a way that is favorable to PHAs, homeless, and low-income populations as quickly as possible.