|Earlier today, the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 20 to 10 to pass the Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies funding bill. Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) joined the Republican members of the Committee to report the bill for consideration by the full Senate. Full Committee consideration of the measure followed the Subcommittee mark-up on June 23.
The bill would effectively eliminate the HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) program—a critical program that is central to HFAs’ ability to meet their states’ affordable housing needs. It provides just $66 million – a staggering reduction of 93% from HOME’s already record-low FY 2015 funding level of $900 million. According to HUD, if HOME were zeroed out in FY16 and not funded at the President’s requested level of $1.06 billion, there would be a loss of an estimated 38,665 affordable housing units (16,045 homebuyer units, 15,099 new or rehabilitated rental units, and 7,521 owner-occupied homes rehabilitated for low income homeowners), and 8,813 fewer families would be assisted with HOME tenant based rental assistance.
The severe cut to HOME can be attributed to the insufficient overall funding level provided to the bill and THUD Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Collins’ (R-ME) prioritization of other programs over HOME. The THUD bill adheres to the Subcommittee’s $55.65 billion 302(b) spending allocation, made pursuant to the Senate’s Budget resolution in keeping with the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011. While this amount is $1.88 billion over FY 2015 levels, it actually represents a decrease of $1.9 billion below current levels due to lower Federal Housing Administration receipts and a $2.3 billion increase in the cost of maintaining existing rental assistance contracts.
During the markup, Senator Collins said that while she believed the BCA caps should be “responsibly increased to a certain degree,” the role of appropriators was to write bills under current law. Senator Mikulski urged her colleagues to work quickly toward a budget deal to raise the spending caps, saying Congress should avoid “showdowns and shutdowns” in the process.
Prior to the full Committee’s consideration of the Subcommittee-passed bill, the HOME Coalition, which NCSHA chairs, sent a statement to the Appropriations Committee urging them to reject the HOME cut, saying that “the severe HOME cut … would have a drastic, negative impact on our nation’s ability to provide housing for those most in need at a time when housing markets and the broader economy continue to struggle, and the need for affordable housing continues to grow.”
At today’s markup, THUD Subcommittee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI) offered an amendment to increase funding for key transportation and housing priorities, contingent on a budget deal that would raise the spending caps imposed by the BCA. For example, Reed’s amendment would have added $990 million to HOME, funding it level to the President’s FY 2016 Budget Request of $1.06 million. His bill would have also added $100 million for CDBG, $100 million for Choice Neighborhoods and $10 million for Lead Hazard Control. The Reed amendment failed on party lines.
Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) also offered an amendment that would seek to restore HOME funding. In his remarks, Coons said that HOME program is the only federal block grant that is used exclusively to house low-income families and its flexibility allows states and localities to address their most pressing housing needs. He added that he saw this first hand in his former role as the New Castle County Executive. Senators Patrick Leahy (D- VT), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Tom Udall (D-NM) cosponsored this amendment. The Coons Amendment failed along party-lines as well.
Regarding the steep HOME cut, Senator Collins said she believed she needed to prioritize funding for rental assistance and homelessness programs, and that HOME affordable housing activities can also be accomplished through CDBG. She also remarked that HOME had been “the subject of a Washington Post series that found it was fraught with fraud, misuse, and abuse. Now, we’ve moved in years past to correct some of that, but it’s not exactly a program with a stellar record.”
There was vocal support for HOME from other Senators during the markup. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) explained that although she could not support Senator Coons’ amendment because it would exceed the BCA caps, she hoped to work with Coons further on HOME funding. Senator Murkowkski added that HOME has been vital to affordable housing efforts in Alaska, and is often the only resource that makes sense for rural Alaska. She also stated that she had been told that if the $66 million funding level were to be enacted, it would be unlikely that Alaska could even administer the HOME program. Senator Merkley also spoke in favor of the HOME program, citing a development in the city of Corvallis that serves victims of domestic violence that would not exist without HOME funding.