U.S. Senator Tina Smith, Colleagues Re-Introduce Bill to Expand Affordable Housing Access for Low-Income Families

WASHINGTON – This week, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development, joined a group of five Senate colleagues in re-introducing legislation to improve the federal government’s largest rental assistance program.  The bipartisan Choice in Affordable Housing Act would make it easier to access Housing Choice Vouchers (HCV), also known as Section 8 vouchers, and attract and retain landlords to the program.  As a result, low-income families will have increased housing choices and improved access to high-opportunity neighborhoods.

The bill is led by Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and is cosponsored in the Senate by Reverend Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.).  The bill has been introduced in the House by Congressman Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.)

“Without access to a safe, affordable place to live, it’s nearly impossible to find a job, manage your health, or engage with your community,” said Senator Smith. “But right now, virtually every Minnesota community has a shortage of quality, affordable housing.  That’s deeply troubling.  This bipartisan legislation would help increase affordable housing options in communities across the country.  I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bill passed.”

“From my years serving Delaware as County Executive and Council President, I’ve seen firsthand the positive, life-changing impact that access to a decent, safe, affordable home can have for those trying to provide for their family,” said Senator Coons. “That’s why Senator Cramer and I are pushing for this legislation to increase the number of landlords who accept Housing Choice vouchers and expand access to rental assistance for low-income families. If we pass this bill, families in Delaware and across the nation will have more choices when they are looking for a home, while landlords will be better able to bring their properties into the Section 8 market.”

“Millions of Americans are struggling to find affordable housing, and with the cost of living on the rise, Congress should look to amplify existing federal housing programs,” said Senator Cramer. “This commonsense, bipartisan bill would enhance the efficacy of the Housing Choice Voucher program by reducing certain regulatory burdens, while establishing incentives to encourage more landlords to participate. It also increases funding for tribal programs and authorizes $500 million to create a Housing Partnership Fund named after former Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz, who dedicated much of his life to making affordable housing a reality for so many North Dakotans.”

The bill has been endorsed by the National Affordable Housing Management Association, National Low Income Housing Coalition, National Housing Law Project, Habitat for Humanity International, National Association of Realtors, National Association of Home Builders, RESULTS Education Fund, Enterprise Community Partners, Mobility Works, National Association of Residential Property Managers, National Leased Housing Association, Institute of Real Estate Management, National Rental Home Council,the Poverty & Race Research Action Council,the Bipartisan Policy Center, the National Multifamily Housing Council,theNational Apartment Association,and the Council for Affordable and Rural Housing.

A list of all endorsements can be found here.

The HCV program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps more than 5 million low-income people, including the elderly and people with disabilities, in a total of 2.3 million households afford safe and decent housing in the private rental market. More than two-thirds of those households are headed by a person of color. Administered by local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), families that receive a voucher pay 30% of household income toward rent and utilities while the PHA pays the landlord the remaining rent. HCVs increase housing stability, reduce homelessness, and each year lift more than 1 million people out of poverty.

The HCV program relies on private-market landlords to accept vouchers. Because the number of participating landlords has declined in recent years, voucher holders experience a difficult housing search process with fewer options. To increase voucher holders’ housing choices and improve access to high-opportunity areas, the Choice in Affordable Housing Act would:

  1. Provide $500 million to create the Herschel Lashkowitz Housing Partnership Fund. Named after the longtime Fargo, North Dakota, mayor who was an advocate for affordable housing, the funds would be distributed for:
    1. PHAs to offer a signing bonus to a landlord with a unit in an area with less than 20% poverty;
    2. PHAs to provide security deposit assistance, so that tenants can better afford to meet required deposits and landlords are assured greater protection against damages;
    3. HUD to provide a bonus to PHAs that retain a dedicated landlord liaison on staff; and
    4. Other uses as determined by the PHA and approved by the Secretary to recruit and retain landlords.
  1. Increase funding to the Tribal HUD- Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (VASH) program. To help renters on tribal land, the bill supports the Tribal HUD-VASH program for Native American veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  1. Use neighborhood-specific data to set rents fairly. The bill would require HUD to expand its 2016 rule requiring the use of Small Area Fair Market Rents to calculate fair rents in certain metro areas.
  1. Reduce inspection delays. Units in buildings financed by other federal housing programs would meet the voucher inspection if the unit has been inspected in the past year. New landlords could also request a pre-inspection from a PHA prior to selecting a voucher-holding tenant that would be good for 60 days.
  1. Refocus HUD’s evaluation of housing agencies. The bill would encourage HUD to reform its annual evaluation of PHAs to promote an increase in the diversity of neighborhoods where vouchers are used. The bill also requires HUD to report to Congress annually on the effects of the bill.