Alliance Legislative Report (updated on February 11)

Impact

What might be included in the next COVID relief package that reduces homelessness and increase low-income housing?

The House Financial Services Committee is marking up (i.e., formally considering), on February 10 and 11, its portion of the COVID relief reconciliation package called for by an FY21 budget resolution.   

Here are the three most important parts of the legislation that are being considered by the committee that are relevant to homelessness and low-income housing: 

  1. $5 billion in emergency housing vouchers;
  2. $5 billion in additional homelessness assistance; and
  3. $19.5 billion in additional emergency rental assistance.  

The work of the House Financial Services Committee will be reviewed by the House Budget Committee and then combined by the House Rules Committee with bills produced by several other committees into a $1.9 trillion COVID relief reconciliation package, which will be voted on by the House of Representatives.  A similar process will occur in the Senate.  The objective of Congressional Democratic leaders is to have this COVID relief reconciliation package signed into law by mid-March.  Soon thereafter, it is expected that the Administration and Congress will begin work on a larger COVID recovery reconciliation package that might include additional measures to better resource efforts to reduce homelessness and build more low-income housing.

Here’s more detail on the homelessness and low-income housing provisions that are being marked up by the House Financial Services Committee:

Emergency Housing Vouchers (Section 4202) would authorize $5 billion “for emergency Housing Choice Vouchers to transition people experiencing or at risk of homelessness, survivors of domestic violence, and victims of human trafficking to stable housing.”  Some individuals and families experiencing homelessness have higher needs and thus cannot be stably housed with more time-limited rental subsidies.  Emergency Housing Vouchers can also be used by many individuals and families who are precariously housed, living doubled up, i.e., with relations and friends, because their income is insufficient to live independently.  Such arrangements, because they make social distancing difficult, are wholly contrary to public health needs.  Moreover, many low-income renters who spend an unsustainable amount of their income on housing and are a doctor’s bill away from being evicted, would also benefit from these vouchers.  These vouchers would disappear once given up by the original holders. 

However, there is also a need for permanent, project-based vouchers.  The Alliance asks that the House Financial Services Committee take a leading role in soon providing the necessary operating capital to run properties after they have been acquired and converted into permanent housing for people who had been experiencing homelessness, pursuant to Section 4206.  To ensure that the homeless families and individuals who are now being sheltered in hotels will have permanent housing placements at the end of the pandemic, there must be a sufficient number of project-based vouchers, which provide a more or less guaranteed revenue stream so that funds invested in capital acquisition create a permanent, affordable community housing asset.  And this in turn requires that the vouchers be project-based and available for continued renewal if the original tenants leave or are no longer eligible.

Emergency Rental Assistance (Section 4201): The Alliance appreciates bipartisan Congressional support for the establishment last December of a $25 billion emergency rental assistance (ERA) fund for low income renters who have lost income because of the pandemic.  This section would replenish that fund in anticipation of significant demand through the provision of “$19.05 billion in funding to the Department of Treasury for emergency rental…assistance that would be allocated to states, territories, counties, and cities to help stabilize renters during the coronavirus pandemic, and help rental property owners of all sizes continue to cover their costs.”  This funding would be available through September of 2025.  An eviction moratorium allows renters to remain housed, but by itself the moratorium does not prevent renters from falling irretrievably behind on their rent.  The ERA fund ensures that low income renters do not struggle to pay back rent when the pandemic is over and the moratorium is lifted; and it provides landlords with vital revenues in the interim.  Strengthening the eviction moratorium and replenishing the ERA are vital to preventing a significant increase in homelessness, and to ensuring that the nation’s homelessness system is not overwhelmed with significantly increased demand for services.

The Alliance asks that it be made clear through report language that ERA funds can be used to meet obligations for new rental units that are secured by people who had experienced homelessness, fled domestic violence, or been insecurely housed. 

Homelessness Assistance and Supportive Services Program (Section 4206) would provide $5 billion in FY21 funding “to help communities provide shelter that facilitates social distancing and supportive services.”  Funding could be used for tenant-based rental assistance; the development and support of affordable housing; supportive services to qualifying individuals not already receiving such services, including housing counseling and homeless prevention services; and acquisition and development of non-congregate shelter units, which may be converted to permanent housing or permanent affordable housing, used as emergency shelter, or left as non-congregate housing.  Except for funds used specifically for administration, these funds would be available through September of 2025.  Funding would be distributed through the HOME program formula, which works as well with acquisition as it does with rapid re-housing. 

Are you curious about how getting these funds through the HOME program is going to work and why the HOME program is being used in this way?  Here are some thoughts from Steve Berg, NAEH Vice President for Policy and Programs: 

“It’s probably best to think of this as a new program, that shares some characteristics (most importantly the funding formula but also some eligible activities) with HOME. A lot of places want to use that money to buy buildings to use as permanent housing for homeless people, which is not an eligible activity under ESG but is under HOME, so this new program adopts that rule from HOME, while adopting other rules from the HUD McKinney-Vento programs.

‘Very little of the ESG that was provided in the CARES Act has been billed to HUD by communities and spent by HUD, and our friends on the Hill thought that would make another allocation to ESG vulnerable to attack by opponents of spending. If this provision makes it into the final bill (which looks good now), it will be up to communities to decide which agency administers the money; hopefully, jurisdictions will send it to their homeless systems. I’m sure some places will send it to whoever administers HOME, which will in many cases require people working on homelessness to do some educating.

“At HUD, HOME and the homelessness programs are administered by the same branch of the agency, and I’m pretty sure the people at the HUD homeless programs will be heavily involved in developing policy and procedures for this.”

The Alliance also appreciates the provision of other assistance in the House Financial Services Committee’s mark:

Emergency Assistance for Rural Housing (Section 4203): $100 million to support unassisted households living in USDA-subsidized properties and who are struggling to pay rent during the coronavirus pandemic.  This funding is available through the end of September 2022.

Housing Assistance and Supportive Services for Native Americans (Section 4204): $750 million in funding, available through September of 2025, to support the Indian Housing Block Grant program ($455 million) and the Indian Community Development Block Grant program ($280 million) to help Alaska Natives, Native Americans, and Native Hawaiians respond to pressing housing needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Housing Counseling (Section 4205): $100 million in funding for Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation, available through September of 2025, to support housing counseling services that help renters, people experiencing homelessness, people at risk of homelessness, and homeowners navigate their housing options and rights, including protections and resources provided through coronavirus relief legislation.

 

And here’s what happened last year in homelessness and low-income housing…

The 116th Congress is over, and a new Congress has been sworn in.  

In late December, the House and Senate both passed an Omnibus Appropriations Act, which included all 12 FY21 funding bills, as well as another COVID-19 relief bill: https://rules.house.gov/sites/democrats.rules.house.gov/files/BILLS-116HR133SA-RCP-116-68.pdf

And this legislation was eventually signed into law by the President. 

The COVID-19 relief portion of the measure included three items of particular interest:

1. Establishment of a $25 billion rental assistance fund which will be administered by the Department of the Treasury (page 2255);

2. Extension of the Centers for Disease Control’s moratorium on residential evictions through the end of January 31, 2021 (page 2281); and

3. Extension of the deadline for expending proceeds from the Coronavirus Relief Fund from the end of 2020 to the end of 2021 (page 2459).

There is no additional funding specifically for the nation’s homelessness system.  Some lawmakers believe that because a relatively small portion of the CARES Act emergency solutions grants (ESG) funds had been spent that additional ESG is not required at this time.  President-elect Biden has indicated that he intends to begin work on additional COVID-19 relief early in his administration. 

The Omnibus Appropriations Act included several items of interest:

1. The 2020 Continuum of Care competition would be cancelled in favor of awarding grants to existing grantees (Section 419, page 1811, and Section 104, page 2526);

2. Funding for Homeless Assistance Grants will be increased to $3 billion, up $223 million (page 1751);

3. Funding for Housing Choice Vouchers will be increased to $25.8 billion, up almost $2 billion (page 1712);

4. $43 million in new vouchers will be established for survivors of domestic violence, families with children, veterans (including those other than honorably discharged), and people experiencing unsheltered homelessness (page 1723);

5. For funding amounts for other programs followed by NAEH, please view this chart: https://endhomelessness.org/legislation/appropriations-fy21-selected-homelessness-and-housing-programs-funding-chart/;

6. Tribes or their designees will be allowed to become part of the Continuum of Care process as applicants and recipients (page 2513);

7. A $10 million pilot project will be established to promote consideration of social determinants of health, including housing and homelessness (Page 28: https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20201221/BILLS-116RCP68-JES-DIVISION-H.pdf); and

8. Interesting report language for HUD, reproduced immediately below:

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20201221/BILLS-116RCP68-JES-DIVISION-L.pdf, starting on page 70:

Homelessness prevention.-The agreement directs HUD to evaluate homelessness prevention initiatives around the country and to issue policy guidance for the adoption and implementation of effective and best practices. HUD is further directed to brief the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations within 180 days of enactment of this Act on ways the Federal Government can increase flexibility in policies and funding to allow for the creation or expansion of homelessness prevention programs. 

Regional approaches to administering vouchers.-To ensure the efficient use of housing choice vouchers that are made available upon turnover, the agreement encourages HUD to provide PHAs with technical assistance on how the industry can leverage regional approaches to administering vouchers across multiple PHAs and improve coordination of voucher portability within regions.

Local coordination.-The agreement directs the Department to evaluate how PHAs can work with local code enforcement agencies to improve collaboration with units of local government to monitor and address health and safety conditions in Section 8 voucher units.

Clarifying eligible activities to address homelessness.-The agreement directs HUD to clarify that CDBG funds can be used for: (1) housing assistance for homeless individuals, including emergency or temporary shelter, transitional housing, permanent supportive housing or emergency temporary rental assistance; (2) supportive services for persons experiencing homelessness, including mental health, substance use disorder, recovery, and disabling or other chronic health related services, and education and job-training; (3) capital building and infrastructure costs associated with the provision of housing and supportive services to homeless individuals; and (4) conditioning assistance for housing rehabilitation on renting units to voucher holders.

9. The conference report for the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes a provision (Section 9103) which would extend HUD-VASH benefits to other than honorably discharged veterans.   The President’s veto was overridden, emphatically, by both the House and the Senate, and the NDAA is now law.  

SEC. 9103. EXPANSION OF ELIGIBILITY FOR HUD-VASH.
    (a) HUD Provisions.--Section 8(o)(19) of the United States Housing 
Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. 1437f(o)(19)) is amended by adding at the end 
the following new subparagraph:
            ``(D) Veteran defined.--In this paragraph, the term 
        `veteran' has the meaning given that term in section 2002(b) of 
        title 38, United States Code.''.
    (b) VHA Case Managers.--Subsection (b) of section 2003 of title 38, 
United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following: ``In 
the case of vouchers provided under the HUD-VASH program under section 
8(o)(19) of such Act, for purposes of the preceding sentence, the term 
`veteran' shall have the meaning given such term in section 2002(b) of 
this title.''.
    (c) Annual Reports.--
        (1) In general.--Not less frequently than once each year, the 
    Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall submit to the Committee on 
    Veterans' Affairs of the Senate and the Committee on Veterans' 
    Affairs of the House of Representatives a report on the 
    homelessness services provided under programs of the Department of 
    Veterans Affairs, including services under HUD-VASH program under 
    section 8(o)(19) of the United States Housing Act of 1937 (42 
    U.S.C. 1437f(o)(19)).
        (2) Included information.--Each such annual report shall 
    include, with respect to the year preceding the submittal of the 
    report, a statement of the number of eligible individuals who were 
    furnished such homelessness services and the number of individuals 
    furnished such services under each such program, disaggregated by 
    the number of men who received such services and the number of 
    women who received such services, and such other information as the 
    Secretary considers appropriate.

10. Interesting report language on HUD-VASH

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20201221/BILLS-116RCP68-JES-DIVISION-L.pdf, beginning on page 71:

HUD-VASH-The agreement directs HUD to consult with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to determine how PHAs can become designated entities to screen for veteran eligibility and make referrals for the HUD-VASH program. The Department is further directed to use its existing authority to specify alternative requirements to permit PHAs to use unleased HUD-VASH vouchers to house VA- eligible homeless veterans, even if they have not received a referral from the VA. PHAs utilizing this new authority must adhere to the following requirements: the PHA must determine that a veteran it seeks to house is eligible for VA services under the HUD-V ASH program; the PHA must refer the veteran to the VA for case management and services; the PHA must provide, on a temporary basis until the VA Medical Center has completed intake of the veteran, appropriate case management and supportive services; and the PHA must ensure that while using unleased HUD-VASH vouchers, it has sufficient HUD-VASH vouchers available to immediately issue a HUD-VASH voucher to veterans referred by the VA. HUD is also directed to within 180 days of enactment of this Act report to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations on its progress to implement the alternative requirements for the HUD-V ASH program and its effect on voucher utilization.

To ensure all funds directed to the HUD-VASH program are accounted for and used efficiently, the agreement directs HUD to make public the need for additional funding and reasons for unused funds, which should also include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the program and distribution of resources. The agreement encourages the Department to use existing authority to recapture HUD-VASH voucher assistance from PHAs that voluntarily declare they no longer have a need for the assistance, and to reallocate it to PHAs with an identified need. The agreement directs HUD to submit a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies and the Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies within 120 days of enactment of this Act on methods to reallocate unused HUD-VASH vouchers, which shall include a determination of the feasibility of issuing a new solicitation of participation for unallocated HUD-VASH vouchers.

The Department is encouraged to prioritize, as part of this reallocation, PHAs that project base a portion of their HUD-VASH vouchers.

https://docs.house.gov/billsthisweek/20201221/BILLS-116RCP68-JES-DIVISION-J.pdf, beginning on page 30:

Department of Housing and Urban Development-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH).-The Department, in consultation with HUD, is directed to provide a report that includes the following information: (1) the number of case managers with temporary or permanent appointments, full and part time status, and the number of vacant case manager positions by VA Medical Center and state; (2) the number of vouchers requested by and the number of vouchers awarded to Public Housing Agencies by VA Medical Center and state; (3) the rate of voucher utilization by VA Medical Center and state; (4) an explanation of any barriers to full utilization of vouchers, such as an inadequate stock of affordable housing, insufficient number of case managers, landlord refusal of vouchers, and reservation for prioritization of high acuity veterans; (5) whether localities that have approved exceptions to the fair market rent have better utilization rates; (6) whether outcomes differ for veterans who are case managed by local contractors or VA Medical Center staff; and (7) a summary of veteran outcomes in terms of sustained vs. un-sustained housing placements, connection to employment/income, healthcare, and other benefits by VA Medical Center. The report shall further outline efforts VA is taking to increase hiring and retention, including through the use of incentives and educational loan forgiveness; and what proactive steps VA might take to fill the case management workforce pipeline. The report shall include a feasibility assessment of individual VA Medical Centers developing workforce training partnerships with community colleges or universities. This report shall be provided to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies and the Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies no later than 270 days after enactment of this Act.

Redistribution of Unallocated HUD-VASH Voucher Funds.-The Secretary is encouraged to issue waivers where necessary to prevent Public Housing Agencies from being restricted from future HUD-V ASH allocations due to vouchers going unused because of insufficient referrals from VA. The Department, in consultation with HUD, is directed to submit a report to the House and Senate Appropriations Subcommittees on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies and the Subcommittees on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies recommending possible methods to redistribute unallocated HUD-VASH voucher funds. The report shall include a determination of the feasibility of issuing a new solicitation of participation for unallocated HUD-VASH vouchers and should be provided to the Committees no later than 270 days after enactment of this Act.

 

Summary

Following up with the Alliance

Please let the Alliance’s John Threlkeld [jthrelkeld@naeh.org / (202) 942-8256] know if you have any questions about legislation or educating your lawmakers. 

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