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Public housing reform measure puts CDBG on the chopping block: deregulating public housing is bill's aim.

As The Weekly went to press, the House completed a rancorous debate on H.R.2406, the United States Housing Act of 1995. The final vote on H.R.2406 was 312-104. The bill would repeal the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, deregulate public and assisted housing programs, set minimum rents, eliminate rent caps for the working poor, reduce targeted housing assistance, and increase local community control over these programs.

Those supporting the bill believe that mixed income populations will result from these changes, which would help make public and assisted housing communities more viable. The opposition expressed concern that this new approach would eliminate the housing safety net for the poorest in cities.

HUD Could Withhold

CDBG Funding

Congress considered dozens of amendments to H.R. 2406, but in maneuvering before the bill came to the floor, the House leadership resisted all pressures to permit a vote on an NLC-supported effort to remove a provision which would give unprecedented authority to a Secretary of Housing and Community Development (HUD) to withhold CDBG funding to a city or town if the Secretary thought that a city had contributed substantially to problems within a local housing authority--whether the city had any direct control over the authority or not.

Congressional supporters of this CDBG sanction insisted that it will never be used because of the drastic consequences to local governments. Housing Subcommittee Chairman Rick Lazio (R-N.Y.) justified this sanction by saying, "We are trying to get maximum leverage."

The Senate public housing reform bill, S.1260, does not include a CDBG sanction. This will allow House and Senate conferees on the bill to consider its removal from the final compromise bill. NLC President Greg Lashutka urged city leaders opposed to the CDBG sanction to communicate immediately with their Congressional delegations and ask that the conferees for H.R.2406 and S.1260 remove all references to CDBG sanctions on local governments.

Repeals United States

Housing Act of 1937

The most emotional debate centered around H.R.2406's repeal of the Housing Act of 1937. This repeal would change national housing policy which, since 1937, has been to provide safe, sanitary and decent housing for all Americans.

During the debate, Democrats strongly opposed the new declaration of policy in the bill which states that "the Federal Government cannot through its direct action or involvement provide for the housing of every American citizen, or even a majority of its citizens, but it is the responsibility of the Government to promote and protect the independent and collective actions of private citizens to develop housing and strengthen their own neighborhoods;" [and] "the federal government should act only where there is a serious need that private citizens or groups cannot or are not addressing responsibly."

Lazio said it was time to change national housing policy goals to reflect reality and not thirty years of housing policy failures. Democrats fought to retain the national housing policy language in the Housing Act of 1937, which they believe sets goals worth reaching toward.

Repeal of Brooke

Amendment

To eliminate what the Republicans believe is a disincentive to work resulting from the "Brooke" amendment, the bill would eliminate the 30 percent of median income cap on rents for working residents. Chairman Lazio cared the Brooke amendment "a job killer" because it forces automatic rent increases on assisted tenants who go out and get a job. In compromises worked out between Mr. Lazio and Reps. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Frank (D-Mass.), Brooke protections were worked back into the bill for the elderly, disabled, welfare recipients and veterans. Democratic floor manager Beilenson was vehement in expressing opposition to the repeal of the "Brooke" amendment. He said, "Repeal forces residents to choose between shelter, food and medicine."

Some of the other substantive changes the House adopted would:

* authorize $5.3 billion for two block grants: one for a capital fund to provide capital and management improvements in public housing and one for an operating fund to cover public and assisted operating costs;

* set minimum rents at $25 and allow local housing management authorities (LHMAs) to charge up to $50 at their discretion;

* allow LHMAs to request and obtain records regarding criminal convictions of applicants for public housing and to deny their tenancy;

* allow LHMAs and privately owned federally assisted housing owners to terminate tenancy if a resident, his family members or his guest(s) threaten the health, safety or right to peaceful enjoyment of the premises for other tenants or persons residing in the vicinity, or engages in criminal activities on or off the premises;

* permit voluntary vouchering out of up to 40 percent of privately owned assisted housing units;

* transfer surplus, federally owned properties (not former military facilities) to homeless providers on written consent of local government authorities;

* allow state occupancy standards to govern when they exist and a two person per bedroom standard to be established in a state without its own occupancy standard; and

* established a National Commission on Housing Assistance Programs to analyze all federal assisted housing programs to determine their current and future costs.

Amendments from the Floor

After a day and a half of debate the following key amendments were considered:

Congressman Watt's (D-N.C.) introduced an amendment to reinstate the policy goal of the U. S. Housing Act of 1937, which says the U.S. government should provide safe, sanitary and decent housing for all Americans. The amendment was defeated on a party line vote.

Rep. Field (D-La.) introduced an amendment to have 25 percent of the members on LHMA boards be residents. This was debated at length and defeated.

Rep. Bruce Vento (D-Minn.) tried to extend the Drug Elimination Program until the year 2000. After some discussion and compromise with Mr. Lazio, it was extended until the end of the 105th Congress in 1998.

Rep. Gilchrist (R-Md.) asked that the bill allow the "invoking of a local criminal law to prevent the trespassing of evicted tenants. "This amendment passed on a straight party line vote.

Rep. Maloney (D-N.Y.) introduced an amendment to allow elderly and disabled tenants in all public and assisted housing to have a pet. After much debate the amendment finally passed on a voice vote and later a recorded vote.

Reps. Kennedy and Lazio worked out an agreement on targeting for housing vouchers and public housing units to persons with incomes at or below 30 percent of area median. They agreed that 40 percent of choice-based vouchers would go to very low-income persons and that 35 percent of public housing units would go to this same income group.

In another compromise important to cities, Congresswoman Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Lazio agreed that 50 percent of section 108 loan guarantee money could be used for housing and the other 50 percent would have to go to economic development; particularly job creation.

The full House voted 312 to 107 for passage of H.R. 2406. The final vote did not indicate nearly as much division as did the long debate.
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Title Annotation:Community Development Block Grant Program
Author:Whitman, Cameron
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 13, 1996
Words:1167
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