Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-St. Elizabeth, is sponsoring what he calls the biggest “reform” to the Department of Housing and Urban Development in more than 50 years.
The legislation addresses long-standing issues in public housing across the U.S.
“What we’ve done with this bill is open up 19 different sections of the law, somewhere between 65 and 70 provisions that we believe make some significant changes in the way HUD operates,” Luetkemeyer told St. Louis Public Radio.
The measure also makes changes in the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Housing Service.
Luetkemeyer says the bill “modernizes outdated rules and regulations” to give state and local housing agencies, and private owners greater flexibility in meeting objectives of the nation’s housing assistance programs. He says the legislation, HR 3700, contains “a lot of things that we believe that enhance the ability of the public housing authorities and HUD in general, to better manage the housing situation in this country so that individuals have more opportunities to be able to get into housing and have better and safer places to live.”
Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver, D-Kansas City, is a co-sponsor of the measure, that also addresses the issue of so-called “over-income” occupants of public housing.
Under the bill, public housing residents whose income is 120-percent of the median for their area for two consecutive years, may be charged rent that is in line with area rates.
A July 2015 audit by HUD's Inspector General's Office found that in 2014, "public housing authorities provided... assistance to as many as 25,226 families whose income exceeded... eligibility income limits." "Of these 25,226 families, the audit found that 17,761 had earned more than the qualifying amount for more than 1 year," according to the audit. The audit estimated that HUD will pay more than $104-million over the next year for public housing units occupied by over income families "that otherwise could have been used to house low-income families."
Luetkemeyer says the bill also provides incentives for “a lot more investment into different phases of public housing.” He says the bill provides incentives for condominium owners to consider providing housing for individuals qualified for public assistance.
Other provisions of the measure focus on helping homeless veterans, and children who are about to age out of foster care, to find public housing.
Lutkemeyer says he and the bill’s co-sponsors worked with HUD and “all the different groups, whether it’s housing authorities, or developers… all the different social services groups to make sure that we came up with a bill that is accommodating, that would help people enhance their ability to get into public housing…”
Earlier this month, the House Financial Services Committee gave strong bi-partisan backing to the bill and sent it to the full House.
The bill will likely be considered early next year.