The U.S. Senate Budget Committee released a report examining federal housing assistance, with recommendations for reform. The report follows from a hearing the committee held on the topic on September 16.
There are currently 20 agencies that administer 160 of these programs and activities, mostly with little coordination, according to the Government Accountability Office.
Opening with a quote from a 1974 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) report decrying a “complicated maze” of inconsistencies, duplications, and overlaps in the federal housing laws of that time, the new report concludes more than 80 years of legislation has resulted in a highly fractured and duplicative system. Loan and rental assistance programs in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and HUD offer similar assistance terms in overlapping areas, the report states as an example. HUD alone runs three rental assistance programs with similar eligibility rules and target populations. Two block-grant programs, the Housing Trust Fund and HOME Investment Partnerships Program, are nearly identical to each other, the report states.
The report also identifies a lack of transparency in the programs. Information on the administrative costs and staffing of these programs is not publicly available, impeding the budget analysis needed to find savings.
Given the numerous examples of duplication and waste, the Budget Committee’s report calls for a major consolidation effort and prioritizing funding for the best-performing programs. The report says the programs exemplify the common problem of bureaucracies devolving into self-serving organizations over time rather than staying true to their mission of aiding their constituents. Merging many of these programs would better benefit the target population by allowing more funds to serve them, as opposed to going to duplicative administrative costs, and would reduce confusion, the report states.
“The federal government’s current approach to housing assistance is failing the neediest among us,” said Budget Committee Chairman Mike Enzi (R-WY) in his press release.
“It is a failure that last year Washington spent over $50 billion on housing, guaranteed about $2 trillion in home loans, and provided billions more through the tax code, yet more than half a million people in this country were homeless on a single night in 2019,” Enzi said. “This demonstrates that if we started from scratch, few would design the system we currently have. We must improve and simplify an overly complex system and work to streamline duplicative programs under one roof. That way the millions of Americans who need these services can find and actually use them.”