NetHomeless

Big Budgets, Big Asks: Key 2021 Legislative Priorities for Homelessness

The timing is perfect! On May 28, President Biden released his detailed budget request for fiscal year 2022. It included aggressive requests for funding increases for programs at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that are key to reducing the number of people who become homeless. These budget proposals will also help ensure that those who do become homeless can move quickly back into housing.

Of note, new federal funding will be available through two different types of legislation: the regular annual spending provided through the appropriations process, and additional emergency recovery legislation that Congress is considering. Both of these robust bills will be critical to address homelessness and fund solutions in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, as communities continue to serve people affected by its economic impacts.

This post will give a rundown of the high points of the President’s requests, and the priority issues for the Alliance’s work with Congress this year. Several of the Alliance’s priority areas are present in both the annual appropriations bill and the emergency recovery legislation.

Annual Homelessness Funding (Annual Appropriations)

Every year, Congress includes in its appropriations bills funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Homeless Assistance account. This funding covers the Continuum of Care and the Emergency Solutions Grants programs, and some smaller items for related research and technical assistance. Congress usually provides an increase in annual homelessness funding, as members increasingly understand the rising need, the importance of the issue, and great work that many communities do with this money. These appropriations have averaged $150 million each year over the past five years, bringing annual funding up to $3 billion for fiscal year 2021.

For fiscal year 2022, the President is proposing an increase of $500 million in annual appropriations for homelessness, which (if enacted) would be by far the largest annual increase since the programs were first scaled up in the early 1990s. This would be enough to cover increased rents for formerly homeless people already housed through the programs, and to significantly expand their capacity.

Throughout the summer and into the fall, it will be important to thank Members of Congress for their support in the past, and tell them how this 17 percent increase would improve your community’s work and results.

Housing Choice Vouchers (Annual Appropriations, Emergency Recovery Legislation)

Housing Choice Vouchers are the largest federal program to provide help with housing – both for people leaving homelessness, and for people who are at risk of homelessness because they can’t afford rent. Unfortunately, for decades only about one fourth of people who are eligible have been able to get a voucher. The rest sit on years-long waiting lists.

When running for President, Joe Biden included in his campaign platform a proposal to make the voucher program an entitlement: funding the voucher program so that everyone who is eligible receives immediate help paying rent. So far, none of the President’s immediate proposals would implement that, but they include substantial new investments to help more people.

The budget proposal regular annual appropriations for FY 2022 includes an increase of approximately $4.7 billion for Tenant Based Rental Assistance, the appropriations account that covers Housing Choice Vouchers. This amount would be enough to cover rent increases for existing vouchers, as well as provide new vouchers for 200,000 additional households. This is a big deal – close to a ten percent increase!

The President’s American Jobs Plan for emergency recovery legislation doesn’t include vouchers, though it does include $2 billion for Project Based Rental Assistance. This funding would subsidize operating costs in specific low-income housing units so they would be affordable to people with extremely low incomes.

The Alliance supports both of the above proposals. It also supports using the emergency recovery legislation to make the Housing Choice Voucher program an entitlement where everyone who is eligible receives help. Even if this final change is not implemented for several years, it is so important that it needs to be written into law now.

Capital Funding to Develop More Housing (Emergency Recovery Legislation)

In communities with the tightest rental markets, we can already see what an increase in vouchers would do in the long run if there is no progress on housing supply: people would continue to get vouchers, but not be able to find landlords who will rent to them for what the voucher pays. While there are steps communities can take to improve this situation – as well as available federal funding and technical assistance that can help in this process – having housing for everyone will require the federal government to provide funding for new or rehabilitated housing.

The President’s American Jobs Plan includes $318 billion dedicated to increased housing supply. Much of this would go for housing that people most at risk of homelessness would be unable to afford. But proposals to rehabilitate Public Housing, and to invest in Project-Based Rental Assistance to make other housing more affordable, would have an impact. Another large portion of the new funding in this category would create housing that would be affordable to people with vouchers, helping make sure that increases in the voucher program translate to more people housed.

The Alliance’s Capitol Hill priorities include the full $318 billion requested by the Administration for housing and homelessness needs in emergency recovery legislation. This should include at least $26 billion for new permanent supportive housing. Additional priorities include $70 billion for public housing capital needs to avoid the loss of additional housing opportunities, and $40 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund (the federal housing production program that is the most targeted to people with the lowest incomes). This $318 billion should include at least the $2 billion requested for project-based rental assistance.

Home- and Community-Based Services (Emergency Recovery Legislation)

The President’s recovery plan includes $400 billion for Medicaid to pay for a range of services that would ensure people with important health care needs have stable housing. While mostly intended for stably housed aging people who would otherwise have to go into nursing homes, the proposal includes all the supportive services that are part of the permanent supportive housing model. Combined with the additional Housing Choice Vouchers discussed above, this funding would allow communities to patch together additional permanent supportive housing, using mainstream resources. The Alliance supports this initiative, including capacity-building grants to communities to pay for the work of coordinating the systems and entities that would need to work together to make this happen.

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These budget proposals come just in time for final preparations for the Alliance’s virtual Capitol Hill Day on Wednesday, June 16. If you want to participate in Capitol Hill Day to meet with your Representatives and Senators and their staff people, please let Jerry Jones, the Alliance’s National Field Director, know right away at jjones@naeh.org.

Even if you can’t participate on June 16, there will be many other opportunities over the next several months to help secure new resources. This year will be a big opportunity for putting new money on the table. The President’s budget request makes that clear, and includes many other helpful provisions. We’re hoping everyone in the Alliance’s network can join us in helping get Congress on board with these requests.

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