National Housing Trust Fund Passes House Committee

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(APN) ATLANTA — The US House Financial Services Committee approved on July 31, 2007, HR 2895, the National Affordable Housing Trust Fund Act of 2007, with broad bipartisan support.

It “will provide dedicated sources of funding for the production, preservation, and rehabilitation of 1.5 million affordable homes in 10 years,” according to a press release obtained by Atlanta Progressive News.

Specifically, the Trust Fund would be used for the production of new housing, preservation of existing federally assisted housing, and the rehabilitation of existing private market affordable housing, including manufactured housing and community land trusts.

Funds could also be used for down payment and closing cost assistance for first time homebuyers.

The bill will directly address the lack of affordable housing in the US, which is the number one cause of homelessness.

US Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the Committee, introduced the bill on June 28, 2007. It currently has 41 total cosponsors, including only one from Georgia, conservative Democrat US Rep. John Barrow (D-GA). The full US House is expected to take up the measure when Congress returns from recess after Labor Day.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC)–which has led lobbying efforts on this bill for years–applauded the Committee’s decision, along with 5,600 supporting organizations of the bill nationwide. The National Coalition for the Homeless has also been instrumental in lobbying for the Trust Fund. The Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless has been one of the supporting organizations.

While legislation proposing the Trust Fund has been introduced year after year in the US House and Senate, these proposals did not get far in the Republican Congress.

Yet, in 2001, then-US Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) [currently a US Senator] introduced HR 2349 and it gained 199 additional cosponsors, including US Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Georgia’s US Reps. John Lewis (D-GA), Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and former US Rep. Cynthia McKinney (D-GA). It never came up for a vote.

The same year, US Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), introduced S. 1248, also a Trust Fund bill, which had 28 additional cosponsors, including former US Sen. Max Cleland (D-GA). Hearings were held but no vote was recorded.

Conservative Democrats, progressive Democrats, Independents, and even moderate Republicans came together to support both the House and Senate versions in the 107th Congress.

“Today marks another critical milestone for the millions of low income households for whom decent housing they can afford does not exist,” Sheila Crowley, President of NLIHC, said of the recent victory.

There are 9 million extremely low-income renter households in the United States, but only 6.2 million homes for rent at affordable prices.

There is not one Congressional District in the nation with enough affordable, available rental housing for extremely low-income families.

Crowley told Atlanta Progressive News her organization is speaking to US Senators from both parties about introducing a similar bill. A likely candidate could be US Sen. Kerry.

WHO FUNDS THE FUND?

There are two House resolutions that would provide funding for HR 2895.

HR 1427, the Federal Housing Reform Act of 2007, includes a provision for funding the Trust Fund from government-chartered enterprises Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would contribute 12 thousandths of 1 percent (1.2 basis points) of their total mortgage portfolio to the fund, a sum the White House said places an undue burden on those companies, even though the companies have not publicly expressed opposition to this requirement, according to The Washington Post newspaper.

HR 1427, sponsored by US Rep. Frank and five others, passed the US House on May 22, 2007, by a 313-104 vote, and is now up for consideration in the US Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.

HR 1852, the Expanding American Homeownership Act of 2007, includes a provision funding the Trust Fund from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), according to the NLIHC Web site.

The Bush Administration has expressed opposition to the bill because it says it wants more discretion over how the FHA spends its additional revenue.

HR 1852, sponsored by US Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and 13 others, was passed by the US House Financial Services Committee and has been placed on the calendar. Frank is expected to bring HR 1852 to the House floor in September.

Funding from these two sources should give the Trust Fund $1 billion annually. A provision in HR 2895 would also allow Congress to enact future legislation that could provide extra funding.

“The notion behind a Trust Fund is, it is more secure than an appropriation,” Crowley told APN, though she admits any Congressional enactments are “subject to some future action.”

“We think it is important the source of funds be dedicated, because this problem can only be solved by a truly significant investment that cannot be siphoned off for other purposes,” the National Housing Trust Fund Campaign said in lobbying materials from 2002 obtained by APN.

WHO GETS THE MONEY AND HOW?

The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would make direct grants or allocate money to state or localities through formulas determined by the Secretary of HUD.

Those formulas would be based on several factors, including the populations of the eligible areas; the percentage of families living in substandard housing and/or paying more than 50 percent of their income for housing costs; the cost of construction or rehabilitation; vacancy rates; the percentage of housing stock that is extremely old; whether plans include building rental housing in areas with an extremely low percentage of affordable rental housing; and other factors the Secretary of HUD deems appropriate.

States and localities would be required to make funds available through grants for eligible recipients, including for-profit, non-profit, and faith-based organizations, and units of government which have demonstrated the capacity to carry out the proposed Trust Fund activity.

Those applying for a grant would have to submit a proposal to the public outlining how the money is allocated and the public would be able to make comments on those proposals.

At least 75 percent of the funds would go to families earning less than 30 percent of the Area’s Median Income (AMI), or for households considered to be “extremely low income.” Additionally, 30 percent would go to families with incomes below the Social Security Income (SSI) income limit.

OTHER PROVISIONS

New units built with Trust Fund dollars would be near public transportation, services, and other economic opportunities.

No one would pay more than 30 percent of their income for these units under any circumstances. Affordability requirements outlined in the bill would be in effect for 50 years.

Families who have been on Section 8 or waiting lists for 12 months or longer would receive priority for housing built with Trust Fund money.

Trust fund dollars will not be used to create new vouchers, new voucher programs, or to add more money to existing voucher programs. However, it would be forbidden to discriminate against voucher holders.

Additionally, grantees must develop systems to ensure program compliance, states must submit annual fund use reports, and HUD can impose penalties on states that do not comply with requirements, including forcing grantees and states to reimburse funds that are misused.

About the author:

Jonathan Springston is a Senior Staff Writer for The Atlanta Progressive News and may be reached at jonathan@atlantaprogressivenews.com

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Our syndicaton policy was updated June 2007. For more information on how to syndicate Atlanta Progressive News content, please visit: http://www.atlantaprogressivenews.com/extras/syndicate.html

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