Signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, HOME provides down payment assistance to help creditworthy families become homeowners and housing vouchers for poor families and those on the verge of becoming homeless. HOME investments often serve as the catalyst neighborhoods need to attract retail businesses and the other anchors of any thriving community.
HOME has done that job well, recently producing its one millionth affordable home and providing tenant-based rental assistance to nearly a quarter-million families.
Indeed, the Post’s picture of the HOME program is a far cry from the one I’ve managed since joining the Obama Administration two years ago and at the local level during my five years running the Los Angeles Housing Department.
In part that’s because it misstated several key facts.
Of the over 28,000 HOME projects underway across the country, the Post reported that over 700 out of a sample of 5,000 were delayed.
But HUD’s own project-by-project review of these “stalled” properties found that more than half of those properties are completed and occupied by families or nearly completed.
Of the properties with legitimate delays, most were stalled because of the recession.
And HUD found that 34% of all new housing starts from 2007 to 2010 were delayed at least three years but only 4% of the projects in the Post’s sample of 5,000 HOME projects actually delayed, HOME’s success rate for completing housing developments during the recession actuallyoutpaced the private market’s.
Of course, the Post also accused the federal government of “trusting local agencies to police projects.”
In other words, it’s a block grant. Instead of dictating to communities what to do and how to do it with one-size-fits-all rules, HOME provides funds directly to state and local governments to meet local affordable housing needs.
That’s not to suggest there isn’t a federal role. As Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) recently said, “I expect every dime to be spent effectively and efficiently.”
So do we. When a project isn’t completed according to the rules, we always force repayment of HOME funds – and have so far recovered $250 million. Since January, we’ve canceled nearly 1,800 projects that failed to get underway and draw down funds within a year, freeing up $290 million of HOME funding to be committed to viable projects.
The Obama administration is also helping build the capacity of local governments and proposing new rules so fewer developments run into trouble in the first place, including stronger standards for developers, stronger underwriting requirements and additional expenditure deadlines.
And right now, the need for HOME has never been greater. Indeed, a recent HUD study found the number of people paying more than half their monthly income for rent, living in severely substandard housing — or both — grew by nearly 1.2 million from 2007 to 2009 and by 42 percent since 2001.
This isn’t a moment to pull back our commitment to affordable housing – but make sure that we are getting the biggest bang for the buck out of every dollar.
By producing a million affordable homes to communities across the country, by generating nearly $4 for every taxpayer dollar it invests, and by ensuring that communities can decide what’s best for them, that’s exactly what the HOME program is doing.
Despite the unfair and misleading accusations of the Post, HOME is providing an excellent return for the taxpayer while making our communities stronger and better prepared to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
With the support and oversight of Congress, it will continue to fulfill that important mission for decades to come.
Mercedes Márquez is assistant secretary of Community Planning & Development at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.