Today, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (D-CA), Ranking Member of the Committee on Financial Services, introduced legislation to reform a controversial demonstration program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) known as the “Moving to Work” (MTW) program.
The measure, entitled the “Moving to Work Reform Act,” seeks to address many of the known shortcomings of the current demonstration program by requiring HUD to subject all future MTW agreements to several new terms and conditions. Specifically, the bill requires any major policy shifts, such as changes in time limits, work requirements, or raising rent burdens for participating families, to undergo rigorous evaluation before taking effect.
The legislation is co-sponsored by Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), a senior member of the Financial Services panel.
“For years, I have expressed my serious concern that Moving to Work’s alternative policies risk serious hardship for recipients of housing assistance programs. Although we are nearly 20 years into this Moving to Work experiment, we still know very little about the conclusive impacts of many of its policies, particularly as they relate to participating residents,” said Ranking Member Waters. “What we do know is that these policies can result in greater cost burdens or evictions of tenants, and data show that some MTW agencies are serving substantially fewer families than their counterparts.”
Moving to Work is a nearly 20-year demonstration program at HUD that provides a limited number of public housing authorities with exemptions from most statutory and regulatory requirements related to the public housing and Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) programs. Currently, the 39 participating MTW agencies manage 430,000 public housing and HCV units, representing over 13 percent of the total public housing and HCV stock.
Waters added, “The legislation I’ve introduced today is in response to the significant questions that remain regarding the effectiveness of the program, especially in light of the rental housing crisis we are experiencing in this country. Taken together, the reforms included in this measure represent responsible and commonsense changes to the Moving to Work program that would provide stronger tenant protections, increased accountability, and a more responsible use of federal resources.”
MTW agencies have special funding formulas, and are allowed to impose “alternative” policies such as rent increases, work requirements, and time limits on residents, as well as other policy changes that can risk serious hardship for recipients. Numerous studies from various federal agencies and research organizations have highlighted that the MTW demonstration program has serious shortcomings and is in need of reform. HUD has identified several deficiencies in the current demonstration program after nearly 20 years of program oversight, and intends to use the opportunity of renegotiating contracts with the existing MTW agencies to address a number of these shortcomings. The program has yet to produce a comprehensive and controlled evaluation and there is therefore no proof that MTW agencies perform any better than non-MTW agencies in terms of cost-effectiveness or self-sufficiency or other outcomes for residents.
In addition to rigorous evaluation of major policy changes, the legislation requires HUD to subject all future MTW agreements to the following terms and conditions:
- More equitable formula allocations;
- Limitations on the percentage of voucher renewal funds that can be used for non-voucher purposes;
- Prohibition of reduction in the number of families assisted;
- Meaningful access to housing in areas of opportunity;
- Retaining important provisions of the United States Housing Act of 1937 relating to: key tenant protections, rights, and grievance procedures; housing quality standards; income eligibility; designation of housing for elderly and disabled households; protections for victims of domestic violence; project-based voucher (PBV) cap requirements; and PBV portability.
Ranking Member Waters has strongly opposed efforts to expand the MTW program as currently designed. Just this month, Waters sent a letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leadership urging them to omit harmful language currently included in the Senate housing funding bill that would dramatically expand the MTW demonstration program without adequate consideration given to the serious concerns raised by Members of Congress, federal agencies, and affordable housing advocates.
The bill is supported by The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the National Housing Law Project, and Poverty and Race Research Action Council. Immediately upon introduction, a number of advocates lauded Waters’ legislation for taking action to address these continual problems:
"This bill would advance important changes in the MTW demonstration, including limiting shifts in housing voucher funds and reductions in the number of low-income families assisted, protecting key tenant rights and program standards, and requiring that policy changes that risk hardship for low-income families -- such as steep rent increases and time limits -- be limited in scope while they are rigorously evaluated," said Barbara Sard, Vice President for Housing Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
“The National Low Income Housing Coalition applauds the introduction of the Moving to Work Reform Act,” stated Sheila Crowley, President and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “This is a good-government bill, which seeks to protect taxpayers and federally assisted housing residents from the potentially harmful practices that could be undertaken under HUD’s Moving to Work program without sufficient safeguards and program evaluation.”