Leading Democrat Calls for GAO Review of Controversial Demonstration Programs at HUD
Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, issued letters to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) urging the agency to review two controversial demonstration programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): Moving to Work (MTW) and the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD). The letters come as Congress considers a significant expansion to the MTW program and as HUD oversees the implementation of a recently approved expansion of the RAD program.
Moving to Work is a nearly 20-year old demonstration program that provides public housing authorities (PHAs) with expansive flexibilities in administering the public housing and Section 8 voucher programs, including the ability to impose time limits, work requirements, and rent increases on existing tenants. Current expansion proposals could increase the demonstration three-fold and encompass nearly 40 percent of all public housing and Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher units.
In the letter to the GAO regarding MTW, Ranking Member Waters outlined a number of serious concerns about the demonstration, pointing out that some MTW’s allowable policies can lead to greater cost burdens for, or worse, evictions of, America’s most vulnerable residents and families. Waters also pointed to lower rates of service for low income tenants, stating that, “data also shows that several of the current MTW agencies are serving substantially fewer families through the HCV program than non-MTW agencies.
Specifically, non-MTW agencies used approximately 96 percent of their vouchers funded in 2014 while MTW agencies used only 81 percent.”
Waters urged the GAO to focus its examination on the impact of the MTW program on tenants, including what safeguards and protections are included in MTW agreements to protect residents from hardship, among other concerns.
The top Democrat has been outspoken in her call for reforms to the MTW program, including introducing legislation earlier this year that outlines much-needed changes to the demonstration to address its many shortcomings. Additionally, Waters sent a letter to leaders on the House and Senate Appropriations Committees urging the removal of language in the fiscal year 2016 Senate Transportation and Housing and Urban Development bill (THUD) that would require a dramatic expansion of the controversial demonstration. Waters also pressed for the omission of language that would hamstring HUD’s ability to re-negotiate agreements with the current participating housing authorities.
Separately, the Ranking Member also sent a letter requesting a review of the first component of RAD– a demonstration program at HUD that allows public housing to convert to private ownership as part of a preservation strategy. The demonstration was recently expanded to allow conversion of 185,000 public housing units.
The Waters letter calls on the GAO to center its review on the RAD demonstration program’s impact on tenants as well as the consequences of privatizing public housing and the potential risk of losing access to the deep affordability that public housing currently provides low-income households.
“I am concerned that tenants’ rights may not be properly protected throughout the process of conversion under RAD,” Waters said. She also expressed that she is “concerned that the demonstration’s primary reliance on private capital essentially depletes our nation’s stock of public housing over time by allowing for the privatization of an asset that has always been publicly owned.”
Full text of the MTW letter can be found here.
Full text of the RAD letter can be found here.