The path to universal housing vouchers -- start from here.
In an online discussion this past week, nonprofit housing providers and tenant advocates wrestled with the complexities of moving towards universal housing vouchers. Over the 90 year history of US housing policy, the principles of incrementalism and local implementation have created a complex "system" for addressing affordable housing. Those principles can guide us forward at this latest policy turning point.
In the 1930s, FDR adapted British "social" housing into the "public housing" that we know today. In the 1960s, Congress provided low interest mortgages and rental assistance to private sector developers. In the 1980s, Section 8 vouchers (now called Housing Choice Vouchers--HCV) were added to the mix of rent subsidies, and Low Income Housing Tax Credits became the primary tool for creating new rental units. None of the older programs ever went away! They were adapted to new economic environments.
In the 2000s, project based rental assistance was refinanced through Mark to Market, and in the 2010s RAD was used as a refinancing tool for public housing developments. Now, in the 2020s, the Housing Choice Vouchers makeover brings a new challenge: transitioning to an entitlement/empower approach to Federal rental assistance.
Public housing and private owners with project-based assistance are worried that their tenants will all choose a voucher and move, leaving their properties half empty...or worse.
The tried and true strategy of incrementalism and local implementation is embodied in the draft bill from the House Financial Services Committee (HFSC). Fund'm all! The bill that HFSC has drafted as part of the Reconciliation Budget does just that. National Low Income Housing Coalition reports that the HFSC includes "$75 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers and $15 billion for Project-Based Rental Assistance; $80 billion to preserve public housing; and $37 billion for the national Housing Trust Fund." For now, the proposal is not a universal voucher program, just a giant step towards universal eligibility for some form of rental assistance.