House Financial Services Subcommittee Examines Rent Reform Draft

On April 25, the House Financial Services Housing & Insurance Subcommittee held a hearing on "HUD’s Role in Rental Assistance: An Oversight and Review of Legislative Proposals on Rent Reform" to discuss a draft of the Promoting Resident Opportunity through Rent Reform Act (PROTRRA) to be sponsored by Representative Dennis Ross (R-FL). As written, PROTRRA would provide public housing agencies (PHAs) options to select different rent models, including tiered rents and stepped rents based on tenure; allow PHAs to design their own rent structure subject to approval by the HUD Secretary; and make other reforms to rent requirements for public housing, Housing Choice vouchers (vouchers), and project-based rental assistance properties previously converted under the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD).

Witnesses at the hearing included William O. Russell III, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sarasota, Florida Housing Authority; Will Fischer, Senior Policy Analyst, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; Adrianne Todman, Chief Executive Officer, National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials; and Richard C. Gentry, President and Chief Executive Officer, San Diego, California Housing Commission.

Introducing the PROTRRA discussion draft, Representative Ross criticized the HUD-imposed income-based rent structure, suggesting that it makes rent calculations burdensome, discourages tenants from working, and disincentives dual-income households. He added, "We have forced PHAs to administer a one-size-fits-all policy that zeros out what should be a strength of our system: proximity and sensitivity that PHAs have to meet the needs of their local communities." In an attempt to remedy this, PROTRRA would provide PHAs a menu of alternative rent structures from which to choose, with the ultimate goal of easing administrative burden and correcting disincentives to work and family formation.

Subcommittee Ranking Member Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) expressed concern that PROTRRA, as written, could lead to large rent increases for HUD-assisted households, and because of the potential for PHAs to choose a variety of different rent structures, PROTRRA could also limit voucher mobility and make it more difficult for HUD to oversee these rental assistance programs. Cleaver also noted that the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act (HOTMA), developed by the Subcommittee and signed into law in 2016, had already made huge strides in streamlining HUD’s rental assistance programs, but that HUD has still not implemented all of HOTMA’s provisions.

Will Fisher argued that, instead of the sweeping changes in PROTRRA, policymakers should ensure that HOTMA is fully implemented as soon as possible, enact the Family Self-Sufficiency Act to support work among rental assistance recipients, and defer consideration of further major changes until HUD finalizes rent reform evaluations are currently underway.

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