PUBLIC HOUSING OVERHAUL HITS WASHINGTON IN JULY

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Congress has gone on vacation without passing its long-delayed overhaul of the nation’s public housing system, but the reprieve will be short lived, according to Congress-watchers.

For two years, public housing bills have languished in Senate and House committees, the product of Republican infighting and widespread opposition from low-income housing advocates. But last week, City Limits reported that Congressman Rick Lazio’s proposal, which would give preference to greater numbers of affluent tenants in public housing, had popped up in the House’s annual federal housing appropriations bill. That funding bill was passed out of committee last week without the Lazio measure attached, but the reform is likely to be tacked onto the appropriations bill when Congress reconvenes in mid-July.

“For the first time in a year there are serious negotiations on this bill,” said Linda Couch of the progressive National Low Income Housing Coalition. “The staffs are meeting right now to talk about all of this.”

The HUD funding bill, which was passed by the House Appropriations committee, contained $100 million for 17,000 Section 8 vouchers to be set aside for welfare recipients going off the dole. But it now appears that House Republicans were using the HUD increases as a Trojan Horse to sneak through their public housing bill. According to analysts with the D.C.-based National Housing Law Project (NHLP), a pending House-Senate compromise bill will include the following:

— Under the new law, people making less than a third of their area’s median income would be guaranteed no more than 35 percent of public housing units and 55 percent of Section 8 vouchers. Currently, tenants with incomes below 30 percent of median are given 75 percent of apartments and vouchers.

— Seventy-five new public housing authorities will be given waivers, freeing them from all existing housing regulations and tenants’ rights guidelines. “Time limits, like the five-year welfare time limit, could be instituted,” NHLP predicts.

— A provision barring Section 8 landlords from discriminating against poor applicants would be repealed.