Public Housing Reform: Home Rule Option for Mayors
Eugene T. Lowe
For all of its program life, public housing funds have gone directly to local public housing authorities. But that could change if a provision of "The Housing Opportunity and Responsibility Act of 1997," H.R. 2, is passed by Congress this year. The provision, called the "Home Rule Flexible Grant Option," would permit the local government instead of the local public housing authority to receive a block grant consisting of public housing funds (operating and modernization) and Section 8 certificate and voucher programs.
This is not the first time that there has been consideration of general local government units assuming the responsibility for public housing. During debate on the 1990 National Affordable Housing Act, Senators Alfonse D'Amato (NY) and Christopher Dodd (CT) presented a proposal that would have put public housing into what is now the HOME Investment Partnership program which goes to local and state governments. That effort failed. Again, during the restructuring proposals to reinvent HUD, concepts were discussed in the HUD policy papers that would have block-granted public housing to local governments. And most recently, in developing FY98 budget proposals, the Office and Management and Budget considered a block grant of public housing funds and Section 8 assistance to localities. The proposal had been dropped by the time the budget was released last week.
The adopted policy of the Conference of Mayors does call for public housing programs to be "deregulated and made more flexible' and for the funding of public housing programs to be "converted into a block grant". When the policy was adopted at the 63rd Annual Meeting in Miami, however, mayors generally believed that the block grant would be directed to public housing authorities.
As for those who represent public housing authorities, the provision has not been well received. The Council of Large Public Authorities says of the bill's provision: "The section makes no mention of consent of the PHA with whom the underlying annual contributions contracts from HUD lie, nor of any obligation to support existing public housing. Block-granting the public housing funds to the city, coupled with its present direct receipt of HOME and CDBG funds, results in the single housing and community development block grant that OMB and other conservative institutions have long sought."
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