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WASHINGTON, DC-Under the Housing Affordability Act of 2002, the US House of Representatives has passed legislation reforming the nation’s Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program in an effort to turn around the decreasing availability of affordable housing. At the core of the bill are new provisions that will encourage otherwise reluctant apartment building owners to welcome Section 8 vouchers.

Immediately following the House’s move, the Senate introduced new legislation that would restructure the voucher system. Officials of the National Multi Housing Council and the National Apartment Association have been working with Congress through its joint legislative initiative on improving the Section 8 program, and laud both chambers for taking action expeditiously.

“The apartment industry is ready and willing to participate more fully in the Section 8 program, however, such participation is not economically feasible unless Congress eliminates the significant costs and burdens it imposes on apartment owners,” NMHC/NAA senior vice president Clarine Nardi Riddle says, detailing the program’s shortcomings. “Just as owners would not regularly accept late payments and long delays before tenants could move in from unsubsidized market-rate residents, they should not have to accept such conditions from Section 8 residents.”

NAA president Scott Gardner expressed the same thoughts before the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee a few months ago. “[Increased program] participation is not economically feasible without reforming the program to reduce the significant costs and burdens it imposes on apartment owners,” he said. He went on to outline necessary reforms, most of which are part of both the House and Senate bills.

Passed by the Financial Services Committee, the House legislation calls for the establishment of “thrifty” vouchers. These vouchers take into consideration a property’s operating costs, as opposed to the current Section 8 formula, which subsidizes the difference between 30% of the household’s income and the property’s fair market rent. About 5,000 of the coupons would be available to exceedingly low-income residents in the upcoming fiscal year.

The new Senate bill would revamp Section 8′s payment process by speeding-up the dispensing of subsidy checks to property owners. What the bills hold in common is the accelerating of time-consuming unit inspection requirements, which necessitate that apartments remain vacant until inspection completion. “These reforms will go a long way to encouraging more private apartment owners to accept Section 8 vouchers,” Nardi concludes.

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