House Dem questions WH public housing relief program

A leading House Democrat is calling on the Obama administration to “rethink” an affordable housing program, warning it could do more harm than good.

Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersSenators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency at hearing Democrat Sherrod Brown torches Facebook at hearing: They 'broke journalism,' 'helped incite a genocide' House Democrats mull bill to ban Facebook cryptocurrency project MORE (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee, argued Monday that the administration’s “rental assistance demonstration” program could put public housing at risk.

Waters is specifically concerned with an aspect of the program that allows state and local governments to mortgage out public housing to the private sector, which in turn can use tax credits to provide subsidized housing.

She said in a letter to President Obama that the nation’s public housing system has been “chronically underfunded,” but questioned the administration’s push to enticing private capital to come help fill the gap. By inviting for-profit companies into the affordable housing market, Waters warned that future occupants that rely on that support could find themselves pinched by profit-seekers.

“Put simply, if the price of accessing public capital is to put public ownership at risk, then that price is too high,” she warned.

One of Waters’s specific concerns is that under the program, the secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has the discretion to grant private ownership of once public housing.

Future HUD secretaries, potentially under a Republican president, may not have the same “commitment to preserving the public interest” as the current one, which could lead to the availability of public housing as units are turned over to private landlords.

The omnibus spending legislation recently passed by Congress included language that expanded the RAD pilot program from 60,000 units to 185,000 units.

HUD bills the program as a “central part of the Department’s rental housing preservation strategy.”

In September, HUD Secretary Julián Castro called the program the “answer” to the struggles in many communities to preserve public housing.