The House of Representatives recently created a demonstration program whose goal is to help households with Section 8 vouchers move to areas of greater opportunity.
The Housing Choice Voucher Mobility Demonstration Act of 2019 was introduced by Representatives Sean Duffy (R-WI) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO). It was adopted by the full House in March with a strong bipartisan vote of 387-22.
The legislation authorized this demonstration program to encourage families receiving Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) assistance to move to lower-poverty areas and expand their access to social and economic opportunities. It directs the Secretary of HUD to establish a competition to select Public Housing Authorities (PHAs) that will participate in the program. Groups of housing authorities may also apply together as a consortium.
Eligible PHAs are those that have a large percentage of their voucher households living in high poverty areas with limited economic opportunities. They must also show that there are enough moderately priced rentals in high opportunity areas for demonstration participants to rent.
HUD’s Secretary will designate the selection criteria for the program, but all PHAs that want to participate must prepare a Regional Housing Mobility Plan. The Mobility Plan must include the names of the PHAs participating and the number of vouchers that they have set aside for the demonstration.
It must also identify community organizations, nonprofits and businesses that will participate and describe what resources they will bring to the program.
Most important is the comprehensive plan with specific actions the PHAs will take to promote mobility. These steps may include counseling and continued support after families move. HUD may require PHAs to select participants randomly. The Mobility Plan must also establish priorities and preferences for selecting participants but must include families with children as a preference.
Finally, the Mobility Plan must specify the criteria used to identify high opportunity areas and propose any regulatory or program waivers needed to make their demonstration a success.
The legislation allows PHAs more flexibility in using their current Section 8 HCV funding to promote greater mobility. PHAs can set aside a portion of their Section 8 Administrative Fees to pay for a number of mobility program items.
Section 8 Administrative Fees typically cover the PHAs costs to administer the HCV program in their areas. Under the mobility demonstration, PHAs could also use their Section 8 Administrative Fees for things like:
- Portability coordination
- Landlord outreach
- Security deposits
- Administrative activities needed to establish and operate a regional mobility program.
PHAs may also use a portion of their Section 8 Housing Assistance Funds in their mobility programs. These are the funds that PHAs use to pay the federal portion of a voucher household’s rent and utilities.
Under the mobility demonstration rules, PHAs can also use these funds to help voucher households with security deposits. The House legislation also lets PHAs use funds from private sources to administer the program.
The House authorizes the HUD Secretary to implement the program by notice. This means that HUD will publish the program selection criteria and rules in The Federal Register. This will give the public a short comment period before the program takes effect.
The measure was introduced in the Senate by Senators Todd Young (R-ID), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Roy Blount (R-MO) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH). If it passes the Senate, it will go to the President for his signature.
Even though the voucher mobility demonstration has strong bipartisan support, there is still a ways to go before it becomes law, and longer still for HUD to prepare the program guidelines for public notice. However, the legislation is very similar to a provision that was included in the FY 2019 HUD appropriations act, which provides $28 million for a voucher mobility demonstration.
The House legislation is supported by the National Low-Income Housing Coalition and other affordable housing advocates.
Congress is recognizing that when families can move to areas with less poverty and crime, better schools and more job opportunities, they and their children succeed. Because Section 8 vouchers are portable, it provides a great resource to support families making this transition. The demonstration program will show what kinds of supports work best to help families move to new areas and find economic opportunity.