Rental Assistance Update—Progress But Advocacy Needs to Continue

CARH’S BROADCAST E-MAIL – Legislative Update

September 24, 2015

Rental Assistance Update—Progress But Advocacy Needs to Continue

CARH members know from previous broadcast emails over the last year (August 11, 2015, July 20, 2015, July 9, 2015, December 14, 2014, September 12, 2014), Rural Development’s (RD’s) Section 521 Rental Assistance (RA) program is in a crisis mode. This is due in large part to proposals by the Agency in its’ Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 and 2016 budgets and agreement by Congress, as it was believed enactment would control rising costs for the program. The proposal, which has wreaked havoc on the RA program, was language in both Fiscal Year appropriations bills that would prohibit RD from renewing contracts more than once in a fiscal year.

Last week at CARH’s Board of Directors meeting, the Agency told the board that since 1978, contracts for the program were funded based on state-wide averages versus actual budget expenditures at individual complexes. There is some dispute as to the accuracy of that statement, but the Agency stated that result of the state averaging practice led to many properties not having sufficient money for an entire year. Up until FY 2015, the Agency would “re-renew” a contract at the time that money ran out, owners and the Agency agreed to this contract funding.

At the end of June, the House Appropriations Committee had considered its version of H.R. 3049 (the United States Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016) and the Senate was soon to take up its version of the funding bill, S. 1800.  The Senate included report language (see broadcast email of July 20, 2015) that asked the General Accountability Office (GAO) to do a full scale review of the RA program. At the same time, RD was in the process of sending letters to borrowers of at least 50 properties that they had run out of money on their contracts. However, it became more evident as July progressed and we moved into August, that there were more than 50 properties as members accessed MINC and were able to access RA needs through September 30, 2015.

Congress began its August recess on August 10th and remained out of Washington until September 8th. Prior to the recess, it became apparent that the RA problems that CARH and others had envisioned and advised RD and members during our meetings, would happen during FY 2015, began to escalate and that, unless fixed, the RA program was in serious financial jeopardy. A full scale effort was undertaken by CARH and several members impacted and potentially impacted by this RA crisis. Meetings were held in Washington by CARH’s national office staff with key staff who remained in Washington during the recess. Many CARH members met with their Congressional delegations in their state and district offices. In particular, CARH members and other housing advocates in Oregon were able to discuss the issue with Senator Jeff Merkley, the ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and garner his support for the RA program.

Last week CARH’s Board of Directors met with key players, including the Chair of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and his staff; senior staffers from Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a respected member of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Maria Cantwell (D-WA), one of the Senate’s leading supporters of the Housing Credit program and also an influential member of the Finance Committee; and senior staff of the House Financial Services and the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committees. All of these meetings reinforced what CARH members in various districts and states had been telling their members of Congress in communications and meetings during the recess.

Since the beginning of August, several newspaper articles have also appeared in publications, causing exposure to the issue, especially as residents began to hear that their portion of the rent that the federal government had been paying would no longer be available and that they would be asked to pay that portion. One CARH member rented a bus and took residents from an impacted complex to meet with the staff from their member of Congress.

It is unlikely that a full year Appropriations bill for FY 2016 will be agreed to before next week.   The Congress will therefore pass a short-term Continuing Resolution (CR) that will fund the government through December 11, 2015, thus also allowing key members of Congress to work on changes to the budget caps and sequestration that were due to also reappear come FY 2016.   On Tuesday, September 22, the Senate released its version of the CR which, if passed in the next several days, will then be sent to the House for consideration early next week. Even though there appears to be consensus on the provisions in the Senate’s draft, concern remains that attempts will be made to radically change the CR because of issues unrelated to funding most government programs (such as the funding of Planned Parenthood you have probably heard about in the news).

As a result of CARH’s efforts outlined above, the Senate CR version includes language that permits RD to receive a greater allocation of funding for the RA program than they used last year at this time and also gives the Secretary the ability to waive the re-renewal prohibition from the FY 2015 appropriations bill. Both provisions are important and a step toward favorably resolving the RA problems created by the FY 2015 budget, meaning that RA contracts that ran out of money during FY 2015 should be funded and those that are soon to expire should also be funded.

However, the question “did RD request enough money for the program in FY 2016?” remains a large issue. The answer appears to be “no” based on meetings last week with officials from the national RD office. It appears that the Agency misstated actual program needs and intentionally requested  anywhere from $100-$200 million less in FY 2016, while advising CARH, program participants and Congress that the program was fully funded.

While progress has been made, it is important that we continue to impress on members of Congress that while this short-term crisis is in the process of being resolved, the issue of finding additional money is vital or properties will be in worse shape early next year because monies will run-out and once again RA will not be available.

Finally the re-renewal language remains in both the House and Senate FY 2016 appropriations bills. This language must be removed! Thus members need to continue contacting your members of Congress on this important issue. Again, it is important that when you contact your member of Congress that you tell your individual stories and the impact on your properties. Engaging your residents and having them tell their story is another powerful tool.  Keep in mind, that it is important that their message be personal. Form emails/letters are not as powerful as communications which tell the story of the RA program on individual complexes in communities throughout the country.

Please keep the national CARH office advised of any meetings and communications that you may have with your members of Congress.

Click here to contact your Senators.

Click here to contact your Representatives.

If you have any questions, please contact CARH at 703-837-9001 or

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