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AHSSIA aims to improve affordable housing programs and promote self-sufficiency

Carrol VaughanThis article was recently published in the Spring 2012 issue of the SERCulator. As it may be of interest to housing professionals across the United States, we're reposting it here.

A third draft of voucher reform legislation — the Affordable Housing and Self-Sufficiency Improvement Act (AHSSIA) — is now being circulated in Congress. Formerly known as the Section 8 Savings Act (SESA) in its previous iteration, the new draft aims to expand and reform the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program, in addition to making several other reforms to our nation's affordable housing programs.

While the bill has not been formally introduced yet, and its future is still uncertain, there are several important points in the legislation that PHAs should be aware of, and provide input whenever possible.

What is clear from the current draft is that self-sufficiency is now a primary focus. Taking a multipronged approach to promoting self-sufficiency efforts, the bill expands the FSS program by making participation mandatory for PHAs with 500 or more units (combined public housing and HCV, subject to appropriations), allows PHAs to partner or collaborate with other PHAs and outside groups to prevent duplicative work and improve program efficiency, and even allows Section 8 property owners and managers to administer FSS programs in cases where a local PHA program option is not available.

In doing so, the bill effectively makes the FSS program available to all residents of assisted housing under Sections 8 and 9 of the 1937 Housing Act, particularly those who were previously unable to participate.

Other reforms figure prominently in the bill's proposed expansion and streamlining of the FSS program, namely:

  • Consolidating the public housing and HCV FSS programs into a single program
  • Requiring HUD to create incentives for housing agencies to expand their FSS programs
  • Creating a funding structure for participating housing authorities
  • Developing a "best practices" identification system to promote collaboration between administrators
  • Placing requirements on the uses of escrow accounts under the program for graduates who remain on some form of housing assistance (e.g., using disbursements for job training, education, investing in a small business, etc.)
  • Requiring HUD to report regularly to Congress on the successes, challenges, and trends in the program related to the promotion of self-sufficiency

Voucher reform legislation makes the FSS program

available to all residents of assisted housing.

Of particular interest is Section 302 of AHSSIA, which defines a research demonstration for the purposes of evaluating economic security initiatives in subsidized housing. This study would identify FSS practices or strategies that best achieve the goals of the program by requiring HUD to examine different strategies (e.g., flat rents, ceiling rents, conditional cash transfers, work requirements) for a variety of assisted family scenarios, including those with and without high school diplomas, those residing in high- and low-cost markets, those who are currently employed, and those who are unemployed prior to program participation.

Such a study, along with the many other reforms mentioned above, can prove to have far-reaching and lasting effects on the future of assisted housing — particularly in terms of the economic independence of the families we serve.

With over 30 years of experience in the affordable housing industry, VP of Professional Services Carrol Vaughan ensures that NMA continues to help PHAs better serve their communities. She'll be attending the SERC Annual Conference this weekend in New Orleans — if you're there, stop by the Nan McKay booth and say hello!

You can find more information about FSS training and other performance improvement solutions at .