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Congresswoman Maxine Waters

Representing the 43rd District of California

Congresswoman Maxine Waters Chairs Hearing on Section 8 Voucher Reform Act

July 27, 2009
Press Release

Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, today chaired the subcommittee's second hearing this year to examine a discussion draft of the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA), legislation that Chairwoman Waters plans to re-introduce soon. 

The legislation is designed to improve the funding and administration of the Section 8 voucher program, which provides housing assistance for two million low-income households nationwide. 

Congresswoman Waters introduced SEVRA in the 110th Congress, and it passed the House of Representatives on July 12, 2007 on a bipartisan vote of 333 to 83.

Shaun Donovan, secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, testified at a previous hearing on SEVRA on May 21 that he is optimistic about the discussion draft and that SEVRA represents "a key step in improving" the Section 8 voucher program.

Witnesses at today's hearing included housing authority industry groups, low-income housing and homelessness advocates and a Housing Choice Voucher resident.  Witness testimony and additional materials from the hearing can be viewed at https://www.house.gov/apps/list/hearing/financialsvcs_dem/hrhc060409.shtml

Congresswoman Waters' opening statement follows:

I would like to thank the Ranking Member, Shelley Moore Capito, and the other Members of the Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity for joining me for our second hearing on "The Section 8 Voucher Reform Act."
At our first hearing, we were joined by HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan who testified about the need for this legislation and its importance in protecting the continued viability of the Section 8 program which provides housing assistance for two million low-income families nationwide.

 Today we will hear from residents, housing advocates, housing authorities, and the housing managers who deal with this program on a day-to-day basis and will be directly affected by this legislation.

This is legislation that has broad support, including the support of 72 housing and redevelopment stakeholders in California, including the California Housing Partnership. These groups have sent a letter of support, which I would ask unanimous consent to enter into the record.

Over the years the Section 8 program — which pays the difference between 30 percent of a tenant's income and the fair market rent — has become increasingly complicated for residents and the public housing agencies (PHAs) that administer the program. Residents must routinely re-verify their income through a time consuming, error-prone process. As we will hear from Ms. Robinson, the inspections process, although well-intended, can actually prevent a tenant from leasing a unit due to the need for minor repairs.

The proposed bill would simplify these processes by streamlining the rent determination process, requiring certifications less often, and improving inspections by allowing PHAs to perform some repairs.

The proposed bill also addresses the funding formula for the Section 8 program. Because of a drastic Bush Administration change to how vouchers were funded, over 150,000 vouchers were lost. I agree with the assessment of Secretary Donovan who testified that the changes to the funding formula "contributed to a slide in funding utilization." In fact, in order to make up lost funding, PHAs limited services to residents and even began to restrict or deny moves to higher cost areas.

While the Democratic Congress has corrected this funding formula, the program has still not achieved the same leasing levels as it had before the formula change. In short, the voucher program serves fewer people today than it did in 2004. Last year, only 90 percent of authorized vouchers were under lease. In 2004, 96 percent of vouchers were under lease. The legislation before us would establish a sustainable and transparent formula that would ensure that would stop the reductions in voucher use and actually increase the number of families assisted through the program.

The draft we will be discussing today does not include the Moving-to-Work program, which allows about 30 PHAs to waive most of the rules that govern public housing and Section 8. As I stated at our first hearing, Chairman Frank and I have agreed that there will be a Moving-to-Work component to this bill, I would like to reiterate the concerns I have about the Moving-to-Work program.

First, I am deeply concerned about the imposition of time limits and work requirements by Moving-to-Work agencies. Second, I am aware that there has been a substantial decrease—by one estimate 24,000 vouchers have gone unused—in the number of vouchers issued by Moving-to-Work agencies. Lastly, there has never been a thorough evaluation of the Moving-to-Work program. 

I look forward to hearing our witnesses' on these very important issues and would now like to recognize Ranking Member Capito for her opening statement.

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