WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), a member of the Appropriations subcommittee that funds housing initiatives, and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a member of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, introduced the Choice in Affordable Housing Act to improve the federal government’s largest rental assistance program. The bill would increase funding for and remove programmatic barriers in the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program – often referred to as Section 8 vouchers – that will help attract and retain landlords. As a result, low-income families that use vouchers will have increased housing choices and improved access to high-opportunity neighborhoods.

“I’m pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill with Senator Cramer that invests in and reforms a federal housing program that has successfully helped millions of Americans afford safe and decent housing in the private market,” said Senator Coons. “Housing is the foundation to a safe, healthy, and productive life, and by increasing the number of landlords that accept Housing Choice Vouchers, more Americans will have greater choices and opportunities in finding a home to build their foundation upon. This is a commonsense solution that would open doors for low-income families – an important step toward addressing housing affordability issues across the country.”

“Over the last year, housing uncertainty has reached unprecedented heights for millions of Americans, and there are ways Congress can act to strengthen existing housing programs without undue market interference,” said Senator Cramer. “The Choice in Affordable Housing Act seeks to increase landlord interest in affordable housing voucher programs by offering incentives and reducing burdensome bureaucratic guidance. It also increases funding for tribal programs and authorizes $500 million to create a Housing Partnership Fund named after former Fargo Mayor Herschel Lashkowitz, who dedicated much of his life to making affordable housing a reality for so many North Dakotans. I urge my colleagues to support our commonsense, bipartisan legislation.”

“Research shows that increasing families' access to high-opportunity areas is an important pathway to upward mobility,” said Raj Chetty, Director of Opportunity Insights and William A. Ackman Professor of Economics at Harvard University. “Children who grow up in opportunity rich neighborhoods are more likely to go to college and to earn more as adults. Making it easier for landlords to participate in the Housing Choice Voucher program is critical for increasing housing supply in opportunity rich areas and by way of this, supporting families' long-term success."

The Housing Choice Voucher program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) helps more than 5 million low-income people, including the elderly and people with disabilities, in a total of 2.3 million households afford safe and decent housing in the private rental market. More than two-thirds of those households are headed by a person of color. Administered by local Public Housing Agencies (PHAs), families that receive a voucher pay 30% of household income toward rent and utilities while the PHA pays the landlord the remaining rent. HCVs increase housing stability, reduce homelessness, and each year lift more than 1 million people out of poverty. 

The HCV program relies on private-market landlords to accept vouchers. Because the number of participating landlords has declined in recent years, voucher holders experience a difficult housing search process and fewer options of where to live. To help reach the goal of increasing voucher holders’ housing choices and improving access to high-opportunity areas, the Choice in Affordable Housing Act would:

  • Provide $500 million to create the Herschel Lashkowitz Housing Partnership Fund. Named after the longtime Fargo, N.D. mayor who was an advocate for affordable housing, the funds would be distributed for:
    • PHAs to offer a signing bonus to a landlord with a unit in an area with less than 20% poverty;
    • PHAs to provide security deposit assistance, so that tenants can better afford to meet required deposits and landlords are assured greater protection against damages;
    • HUD to provide a bonus to PHAs that retain a dedicated landlord liaison on staff; and
    • Other uses as determined by the PHA and approved by the Secretary to recruit and retain landlords.
  • Increase funding to the Tribal HUD-VASH program. To help renters on tribal land, the bill supports the Tribal HUD-VASH program for Native American Veterans who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
  • Use neighborhood-specific data to set rents fairly. The bill would require HUD to expand its 2016 rule requiring the use of Small Area Fair Market Rents to calculate fair rents in certain metro areas.
  • Reduce inspection delays. Units in buildings financed by other federal housing programs would meet the voucher inspection if the unit has been inspected in the past year. New landlords could also request a pre-inspection from a PHA prior to selecting a voucher-holding tenant that would be good for 60 days.
  • Refocus HUD’s evaluation of housing agencies. The bill would encourage HUD to reform its annual evaluation of PHAs to promote an increase in the diversity of neighborhoods where vouchers are used. The bill also requires HUD to report to Congress annually on the effects of the bill.

The bill is endorsed by the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC), National Housing Law Project (NHLP), Poverty & Race Research Action Council (PRRAC), Habitat for Humanity, Enterprise Community Partners, National Apartment Association (NAA), National Multifamily Housing Council (NMHC), National Association of Realtors (NAR), National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), National Leased Housing Association, Jewish Federations of North America, Up for Growth Action, RESULTS Educational Fund, and BPC Action. NMHC and NAR have written letters of support.

A one-pager on the Choice in Affordable Housing Act is available here. The bill text is available here.