Mass Attorney General Urges Congress To Authorize $30 Million To Retrofit Public Housing

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In full transparency, the following is a press release from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office

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BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, April 16, joined a coalition of 14 attorneys general in calling on Congress to increase the funding for the nation’s public housing system allotted as part of President Biden’s infrastructure plan by $30 billion.

In today’s letter to Congressional leadership, the attorneys general argue that the currently allotted $40 billion – although a good start – is insufficient to address the years of neglect and underfunding of the nation’s public housing systems, and argue that instead, Congress should allot at least $70 billion for capital needs to return to a good state of repair, growing to $90 billion through 2030.

“We are facing a national housing crisis that has been further exacerbated by the pandemic and our public housing facilities have already suffered from years of inadequate funding,” Healey said. “We urge Congress to do right by the American people and increase funding to address the massive need in our communities right now.”

Public housing is a vital resource for cities and neighborhoods by making housing more affordable for the 1.2 million American families that rely on it. In order to keep public housing units affordable for low-income families, federal regulations cap rents at 30 percent of a family’s income.

While this cap ensures affordability, the amount of rent collected by the nation’s 3,300 federal Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) is insufficient to cover the costs of operating and maintaining the properties they oversee.

When the federal public housing program was created in 1937, it was understood that PHAs would need ongoing operating and capital support from the federal government to close the gap between the rents charged to those in public housing and the actual cost of building operations and maintenance.

The amount that each PHA is entitled to receive from the federal government is set each year by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through a formula.

However, it is Congress that appropriates money for the federal public housing program, and, in most years, the appropriation does not match the total amount that PHAs require for maintenance and operations.

In recent years, especially, as the coalition notes, the political will has not existed to fully fund the gap between public housing rents paid and the cost of building operations and maintenance. For example, the amount appropriated by Congress has only matched the need, as stated by HUD, twice between 2000 and 2018, and, in some years, the amount has been less than 85 percent of the need.

Further, in the past 10 years alone, the Public Housing Operations budget has been reduced by nearly $1 billion, resulting in a massive backlog in necessary repairs and maintenance that has led to deteriorating and damaging conditions for the families living in public housing.

In today’s letter, the coalition calls on Congress to allocate sufficient funds to address the repair backlog, to make a forward-facing commitment to fund capital funding gaps, and to create a dedicated fund for lead remediation.

Last week, Healey recognized the state of Fair Housing Month by announcing that her office is hosting a roundtable for counselors as well as trainings for landlords, property managers, real estate agents, community organizations, and tenant advocates to ensure they are aware of protections afforded to tenants and homebuyers under state and federal affordable housing laws. AG Healey is focused on combating housing discrimination for those who receive federal housing assistance.

Joining AG Healey in signing today’s letter are the attorneys general of New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Vermont, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

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