September 30, 2015; Housing Assistance Council News

On September 25th, NPQ featured a story on tenants in USDA housing facing rent increases because of USDA ineptitude, based on an article in the Des Moines Register. The Register story cites a staff person for Senator Grassley as saying that the senator supports “a policy that makes sense and is fair to all involved, whether it’s what the appropriators are proposing—a renewal with fixes—or something different. He doesn’t want people to be displaced.”

Apparently that’s what happened in the Continuing Resolution (CR) that was enacted to keep the government in business until mid-December. In that CR, Congress included an “anomaly” that permits the USDA to ignore the “no re-renewal” rule. Now, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has the discretion to renew Rental Assistance contracts that have run out of funds.

Assuming that USDA exercises that discretion, the 700–800 projects thought to be at risk have a reprieve. Advocates believe that Vilsack will leap at the chance to avoid more bad publicity for the Department. Gideon Anders of the National Housing Law Project told this author, “I have little doubt that RD will use the waiver authority. I have heard that they welcomed it.”

Still, because the CR expires on December 11th, this is only a short-term reprieve. Advocates believe that current appropriations bills don’t include enough funding to renew the Rental Assistance contracts that will be expiring later in 2016, and increases are impossible without lifting the sequester caps imposed by the 2011 “grand bargain.” Congress and the White House are supposedly working on a new grand bargain that could solve the short funding and long funding problems.—Spencer Wells