Having more federal dollars is a welcome development in the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s budget, however there still is not enough to fully fund operational and capital programs.

That was the message District of Columbia Housing Authority Executive Director Adrianne Todman relayed to the 450 participants in the National Housing Conference’s Annual Budget Forum. The forum, held February 18, was webinar featuring several panelists discussing President Obama’s proposed HUD budget. Panelists  in addition to Todman were Susan Dewey, executive director of the Virginia Housing Development Authority; Aaron Gornstein, chief executive officer of Preservation of Affordable Housing; and Laura Hogshead, chief operations officer at HUD.

“If you care about mobility, income equality, if you care about all of these issues that are spoken of these days, please remember to fund housing authorities, so they will be helpful to this country,” Todman said.

NHC’s Vice President of Research Lisa Sturtevant opened the discussion explaining that over the past year both rents and the costs of owning a home have increased, creating difficulties for working families to find affordable housing in the years to come, she said. Minorities continued to be more cost- burdened than white families, and they tend to live in areas that have less opportunity for transit or job options.

“Current programs designed to help working households afford housing are insufficient to meet the needs,” she said.

The HUD budget spends about 80 percent of its funding keeping existing households on assistance in their homes, said moderator Ethan Handelman, NHC’s vice president of policy and advocacy. However, advocates who want to see more funding for housing programs should push for a larger allocation in the amount that is appropriated to the THUD budget, or the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development budget, which is split between the related departments, he said. While every little bit counts, he said that with a partisan Congress in an election year, a lot of the figures may not change. HUD’s proposed fiscal 2017 $48.9 billion budget is an increase of $1.9 billion over fiscal 2016, Hogshead said.

“A lot of our budget is just keeping folks in the homes they are in already,” she said. “We have to make very wise decisions about the rest.”

Highlights of the budget include increases on tenant-based rental assistance and continuing assistance, 10,000 new vouchers for homeless families, fully funding administration fees, and an increase of funds for six CHOICE implementation grants. The public housing operating fund is increasing to 87 percent proration, or 87 cents on the dollar of what is needed, dedicated funding to the RAD (Rental Assistance Demonstration) program and other funds targeting homeless and youth populations.

“I’m very thankful there is a bump up to 87 percent, but it is a very slight bump up,” Todman said. “We look like public housing because of the level of disinvestment in this important infrastructure in this country—not just for a couple of years, but for decades.”

Todman said that in the past 16 years, public housing agencies have only been fully funded for operations four times, which is “devastating, not just for the residents who live there, but for the community that expects more from their government.”

She pointed out that properties, such as Stoddert Terrace and Greenleaf Gardens, have staff working very hard to keep up with the day-to-day maintenance; however “there is a backlog of capital needs just not being met.”

Greenleaf and Barry Farm, for example, are in the midst of discussing redevelopment plans with the larger communities since the properties’ infrastructure is so worn. These are projects that the CHOICE program promotes, she said. These potential neighborhoods provide “a huge opportunity…to not only the residents and community, but the whole city if we can unlock some of the very valuable assets of that community, and not just replace all of the public housing that is there but bring new housing to the footprint...for families at every [income] level.”

Todman also recognized the federal budget for fully funding the administrative fees for the voucher program. That money is used for inspectors, recertifications, helping families find good affordable units, self-sufficiency programs, and job training, among other items.

Housing authorities “are major service delivery platforms for the entire country,” said Todman, who said the agencies work with partners to affect change in communities through youth initiatives, senior wellness, and workforce development. “If we are going to move the country forward, if we are going to be the department of opportunity that the secretary speaks so well of, then you have to respect housing authorities’ are out there every day and should be funded at that level.”

Other panelists supported Todman’s statements.

While finding the supportive resident services funding as a positive addition, Gornstein with the Preservation of Affordable Housing said his organization is taking a closer look to make sure there is enough money for project-based rental assistance and tenant-protection vouchers. He also said he was pleased that additional funding for HOME and the Housing Trust Fund would be made available to preserve existing and add more affordable housing stock.

Dewey with Virginia’s Housing Development Authority agreed increased voucher assistance for the homeless is very helpful to her agency, as well, but doesn’t want to lose sight of those with disabilities or aging populations, she said. Dewey also expressed concern with the decreases in tax credit programs her state relies on to help create more affordable housing. 

This year's forum was held as a live webinar.
Last modified: 2/24/2016 12:36:05 PM