House Overwhelmingly Passes Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2007
The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed H.R. 1851, the Section 8 Voucher Reform Act of 2007, Sponsored by Congresswoman Maxine Waters with a bipartisan vote of 333 to 83, to reform the Section 8 funding formula to make it more efficient and revise the rent calculation process for Section 8 and public housing to expand work incentives and reduce administrative costs. In addition, the bill will increase flexibility to use vouchers for homeownership, amend voucher targeting rules to increase voucher opportunities for lower income working families in rural areas, and authorize an expansion in the number of families receiving vouchers by 20,000 a year for each of the next five years. The measure now moves to the Senate for consideration.
"This is a program we can all be proud of. This bill addresses many of those problems and will return much-needed stability to the Section 8 program and the 2 million low-income families who rely upon it," said Rep. Waters (D-CA). "We are reestablishing a program that changes lives by providing clean, safe, and affordable housing, improve the health of families, introduce better educational opportunities for children in school, improve communities, and strengthen the face of the nation's affordable housing landscape."
"At last, we have a bill that brings this country's Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program into the 21st Century," said Rep. Biggert (R-IL), an original cosponsor of the bill. "Besides providing more flexibility at the local level, where it's needed most, this bill will expand and enhance the programs that help public housing recipients move to self-sufficiency and to homeownership."
"I'm especially pleased that we addressed the special needs of seniors and people with disabilities," continued Biggert, Ranking Member of the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity. "In all, there is much to like in this bill, and that's why it received overwhelmingly strong bipartisan support."
The House also voted to adopt Rep. Waters' manager's amendment, to allow flexibility in rent setting while maintaining statutory affordability requirements, increase the level of permitted voucher reserves in the first year of the transition under the funding formula change, spell-out responsibilities for HUD to provide uniform translation of documents under the Administration's Limited English Proficiency (LEP) requirements, and make modifications to inspection and Housing Innovation Program (HIP) provisions in the bill.
SUMMARY OF H.R. 1851
The Section 8 Voucher Reform Act (SEVRA) makes a number of changes to the Section 8 voucher and project-based and public housing programs to expand rental assistance opportunities, improve program efficiencies, and encourage family self-sufficiency:
Voucher Funding Formula. The bill reforms the Section 8 voucher funding allocation formula in order to increase the number of families receiving vouchers, by eliminating inefficiencies that have resulted in $1.4 billion in unused funds and through incentives for housing agencies to use funds to assist more families. The bill protects housing agencies adversely affected by formula changes, by allowing them to retain and use voucher reserves during the transition period to maintain the number of families being assisted.
Incremental Section 8 Housing Vouchers. The bill authorizes 20,000 incremental vouchers in each of the next 5 years, for a total of 100,000 new vouchers.
Self-Sufficiency. The bill includes a number of provisions to encourage economic self-sufficiency for low income voucher and public housing families, including (a) income disregards to reduce rent disincentives related to increases in earned income, (b) targeting changes to make it easier for low income working families in rural areas to receive a voucher, (c) an improved funding mechanism for family self-sufficiency coordinators, who help families find employment, (d) income exemptions for adult full time student dependents and for education savings accounts, (e) helping low income families improve their credit score by allowing reporting of voucher and public housing rent payments.
Homeownership. The bill permits housing agencies to let a family use a housing voucher as a down payment on a first-time home purchase. The bill corrects statutory impediments to use of a voucher for purchase of a manufactured home on leased land.
Simplification. The bill changes rent calculation, recertification, and inspection rules for the voucher, public housing, and project-based Section 8 programs, to reduce costs and compliance burdens for public housing agencies, landlords, and families. These changes are made while maintaining rules that target scarce resources to those families most in need and while maintaining rent calculation rules that ensure that rents are affordable.
Tenant Protections. The bill makes a number of changes for the benefit of federally assisted families, including provisions to preserve voucher families' ability to move to other areas, to address excessive voucher rent burdens, to provide for more accurate fair market rent calculations, and to protect voucher holders in units that are in need of repair.
Housing Innovation Program. The bill expands and renames the Moving to Work Program, which gives a limited number of housing agencies flexibility to experiment with development and rent policies, and strengthens the program's evaluation process.
Project-Basing of Vouchers. The bill includes changes to make it easier for housing agencies to attach vouchers to housing units – an important option in tight rental markets and in developing supportive housing for seniors, disabled persons and homeless persons.