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Last week, a small group of NHC members and other experts on affordable housing had lunch with the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Pam Patenaude, and several other senior officials at HUD. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss Sec. Ben Carson’s recent proposal to, in his words, “reform decades-old rent policies that are confusing, costly and counterproductive, in that the incentives they create often fail to adequately support individuals and families receiving HUD rental assistance in increasing their earnings.” Sec. Carson noted that the draft was a means to “begin a necessary conversation about how we can provide meaningful, dignified assistance to those we serve without hurting them at the same time.” It’s clear from our discussions here at NHC and with HUD that the current draft doesn’t get us there, for a wide range of reasons.

One of the points I made to the HUD team was that any changes in how we house 4.7 million people should be based on sound data and research, much of which is underway following the passage of the Housing Opportunity Through Modernization Act of 2016 (HOTMA). In what was a remarkable feat of bipartisanship, HOTMA passed the House, 427-0! Yet the new HUD draft bill would make major changes to critical elements of that legislation, which could result in significantly raising rents on extremely low-income senior citizens and people with disabilities, a result that is simply not an acceptable outcome and makes achieving bipartisan reform impossible.

Additional reforms, in my view, are clearly necessary, but they must be done holistically. As I told the HUD team, “we have to consider production, work readiness, and job availability. We can’t play whack-a-mole with people.” When we do, we simply push expenses to other parts of the budget and cost the taxpayer more in the long run. “Moving people from public housing to homelessness does not save money.” The good news is that both Sec. Carson and Deputy Sec. Patenaude have made clear that they want to continue to engage with NHC on this and other issues – an invitation we accept wholeheartedly as an opportunity for us to make a difference, not just make a point.

Here at NHC, we will continue to consider a wide range of views on this and other issues. When we can constructively add to the debate, we will do so publicly. More often, however, we will work with our diverse members behind the scenes to achieve the outcomes that defend the American Home and the millions of people for whom the promise of quality affordable housing is still just a dream.

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