‘Foong on Finance’ with Keat Foong: HUD Secretary Affirms Recommitment to Rental Housing

In announcing the proposed Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget this week, HUD Secretary Donovan seemed to affirm a shift in direction from the Bush years—towards a renewed emphasis on rental housing.

Speaking in a teleconference to reporters, he said that the focus has been missing for “too long” from rental housing. He commented that we have had “accelerated disinvestment in key housing and community efforts” in the country in the past few years.

And that we have had “a housing policy focused almost exclusively on homeownership at the expense and/or neglect of rental housing as a part of the national housing policy.”

Rental housing is now HUD’s “mission” once again after years of neglect, says Secretary Donovan. Reassuringly, he says we must ensure that the “focus on rental housing is protected.”

Secretary Donovan seems to understand that rental housing may be more critical than ever given today’s economic environment. At the least, it is often the first line of defense for families that are not financially well-off.

Here are some of the measures contained in the HUD budget proposal that may back up Secretary Donovan’s assertion about HUD’s renewed commitment to rental housing. The following proposals for increased funding are all aimed at rental housing programs. [See the MHN report.]

-A $1.8 billion increase in effective funding for the Section 8 voucher program, which, Secretary Donovan says, is the most effective and quickest tool to help the lowest income families.

-A $1 billion contribution towards the National Housing Trust Fund, which was created to build, rehabilitate and preserve 1.5 million unit of rental housing for the lowest income families.

-Fully funding the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program through a $550 million increase in funding.

-A new $250 million Choice Neighborhoods Initiatives for distressed public and assisted housing that will replace HOPE VI.

By the way, HUD also proposed to eliminate the Bush Administration’s flagship American Dream Downpayment initiative, which aimed to assist first-time homeowners with down payment and closing costs. The program, however, may be wrapped into the HOME program.

(Keat Foong is the executive editor at Multi-Housing News. She can be contacted at Keat.Foong@nielsen.com)