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Hope IV Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2007

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


HOPE VI IMPROVEMENT AND REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2007 -- (House of Representatives - January 17, 2008)

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I thank the gentlewoman who chairs the Housing Subcommittee for the time and for her very creative and diligent work on this bill and others. And I also want to acknowledge our new ranking member of the Housing Subcommittee, the gentlewoman from West Virginia.

Let me begin by noting that obviously in the parliamentary forum we focus on areas of difference. Members should note how small those are relatively in the context of this bill. This is a significant rewrite of the HOPE VI program in which there was not a lot of objection. In fact, I think every amendment but one that was offered was made in order. I disagree with several of the amendments, but I do want to stress the commonality of reform that is in here as we go forward.

There are two basic areas of difference. Two amendments on the other side of the aisle from the two gentlemen from Texas would reduce the requirement that with Federal money we replace low-income units that we destroy. Yes, there are low-income units that should be eliminated as they now exist, but that does not mean that the total number of housing units available for lower-income people ought to be diminished as a conscious Federal policy. And the amendments of my two colleagues from Texas would do that.

The Sessions amendment would allow the Federal Government to give people money simply to tear down all of the houses that poor people live in in a particular area on the grounds that those weren't very nice houses. No doubt in many cases they are not nice houses, but the poor people who live in those houses didn't decide voluntarily to live in bad housing as opposed to nice housing. They had nowhere else to go. And if you tear down where they now are and build zero in its place, you have exacerbated the housing crisis.

Similarly, the amendment of the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Neugebauer) would diminish our capacity. We say if you tear them down, you have to replace them. You don't replace them in the same place. You can do it in a much broader area with more flexibility. You have 4 1/2 years to replace the ones you have torn down and may go to the Secretary of HUD and get a waiver, say there is a court order, there is this land shortage. Some of these were, in fact, so useless. There are a lot of reasons you can go to the Secretary of HUD. So we are not saying that the one-for-one has to be followed in every case. We do say that should be the standard.

Here is the problem with the Neugebauer amendment. He says the housing authorities only have to replace units that they tear down that were occupied. Most people who run housing authorities are diligent, hardworking people in difficult circumstances, but there is incompetence in some housing authorities. People who have incompetently been unable to rent housing for one reason or another shouldn't be rewarded by then being allowed to tear that housing down.

In other words, if housing authorities, who have the obligation to use the money available to house people, refuse to do that or are unable to do that, we should not reward them by saying then you don't have to build those. And there will be places where people don't like poor people living in their community, and the political leadership of that community could then order the housing authority to leave some of those units vacant, and then we will apply for a HOPE VI grant and we will be able to replace far fewer because we will be rewarded for leaving them vacant.

The gentlewoman from West Virginia's amendment, and again there is some common agreement that we should go towards encouraging green building, but here is the difference. I know the homebuilders say this is bad for them, but understand, this is a Federal program with Federal money. We are not talking here about imposing on private-sector developers any requirement whatsoever to do energy efficiency. We are here as the landlord, not as the regulator.

What we are saying is that we are the Federal Government and we will set an example. We will take the money that we, the Federal Government, makes available, and hold ourselves to a high energy efficiency standard. If people think that is inappropriate and it is too expensive, they don't have to apply to come here. That leaves everyone in the private sector free to do as they wish.

Beyond that, one of the strongest advocates of this has been my colleague from Massachusetts (Mr. Olver), the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee. He has to fund all of this, and he has to fund it going forward. We don't simply build the HOPE VI projects and walk away. We don't. The builders do. It is not their fault.

If I am the contractor to build the buildings, my obligation is completed the day I have done the building and gotten the money for it. But we, the Federal Government, then have to fund it on an ongoing basis. What we are saying is, as the landlord, we want to build it in a way that makes it energy efficient going forward.

We will take an up-front cost because, over time, over 20 and 30 and 40 years, we will reduce our operating budget. So we are being told that as the landlord we can't make the decision about how efficiently to use funds and how to say we will reduce costs going forward. So I would hope that the gentlewoman's amendment is defeated. It would take it from a mandatory to one factor among many.

We also have an argument about the standard. We do mention one standard. The homebuilders are wrong in their letter where they talk about the LEED standard. That is out of the bill in the manager's amendment.

On the green communities, we do mention the green community standard; but we explicitly give the Secretary of HUD the ability to propose another standard if it is equivalent in energy savings, and that's the key.

So the amendment of the gentlewoman from West Virginia (Mrs. Capito) makes this one factor among many, not a required factor, and everything we do with our money to be energy efficient.

And, secondly, she would allow a much weaker standard in many cases than ours does. So we allow flexibility, but flexibility as to how to achieve the goal of energy efficiency, not flexibility as to how much energy efficiency to offer.

I hope the bill, as essentially presented, or a couple of amendments I think are relatively noncontroversial, are accepted.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. The gentleman from Alabama correctly quoted the carpenters' letter. The manager's amendment responds to that. The manager's amendment, which we are now debating, removes reference to the leadership and energy and environmental design. So the objection raised by the carpenters we thought had some validity to it, and the manager's amendment takes care of it.

So there is no reference to that. So two of the points the gentleman made we agree with, and we're correcting, restoring main street and removing any reference to LEED. There will be other differences, but I did want to acknowledge this is an example of how we're trying to work together.

Mr. BACHUS. Madam Chairman, will the gentleman yield?

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I yield to the gentleman from Alabama.

Mr. BACHUS. Would you continue to work with us to make sure that, in fact, is possible?

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Yes.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, I claim the time in opposition.

The Acting CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Massachusetts is recognized for 5 minutes.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I appreciate the cooperative spirit, and we should note that the one-for-one replacement will remain in effect, but there's a question about what it accomplishes.

Let me describe the one-for-one replacement, because it is not nearly as prescriptive as my friend would have indicated. In the first place, communities will have 54 months after the demolition with which to replace the housing. Secondly, it does not have to be new public housing. We have explicitly added here the ability to do project-based vouchers. We have worked with some of those who in fact try to do HOPE VI, to make it more flexible.

Third, there's a waiver in here. One of the factors in the waiver, the gentleman from Texas correctly mentioned open spaces, one of the desirable things. My colleague from Massachusetts, Mr. Capuano, offered an amendment that has been incorporated into the manager's amendment that would say when you apply for a waiver, your willingness to put in more open space would be one of the justifications for a waiver for one-for-one. So we do have flexibility.

On the other hand, I reject the notion that we shouldn't be prescriptive here. This is not the Federal Government reaching out and telling people what to do. This is a restriction on the expenditure of Federal funds for a limited purpose. Here is the problem: we do have a shortage of affordable housing units. We do not want to see a Federal program contribute to a diminution of that. We allowed flexibility in the replacement.

Here's the problem with the gentleman's amendment: most of the people who run housing authorities are decent, hardworking people who have taken on a tough job, and we have tried to help them. But there are political situations in some community where the people running housing authorities are not supportive of this purpose.

What the gentleman's amendment says is if they leave the units vacant, they can then permanently get rid of the units. That is the problem. Going forward it gives people an incentive or reward not to fill the units. Most housing authorities won't be like that, but there is incompetence and there are people who for political reasons say, We don't want these people, they are too much of a problem.

So rewarding housing authorities for leaving units vacant by allowing them,
if the people left them vacant may want to have fewer housing units, allowing them that is a very bad idea. We should have flexibility, I agree with the gentleman. But that is flexibility with the waiver; that is flexibility in how you deliver placement. In other words, show why you're trying to do it. But to diminish the requirement at the outset arbitrarily to reward people for leaving units vacant, to reward the incompetence. People say, We have got too many other units here. We're going to leave them vacant. Remember, elderly housing is a major component. That would be a very grave error.

We have, I believe, in much of this country a shortage.

Now, if a community comes forward and says to HUD, You know what, there is no population here left anymore, there is nobody who wants to live here anymore, those are considerations that can be put into the waiver. So we agree there should be flexibility. That is why we have a waiver component.

By the way, in addition to open space, if you show you are going to do day care facilities, if you show you are going to do health care facilities, that can further justify fewer units. If you say you are going to build more large units for large families, yes, you can trade in a couple of small units for a large unit. All of those are encouraged.

The only thing we disagree with, because we believe we have built flexibility in here, is, as I said, to give people in some cases those who are, and it is not the majority by any means, people who are not supportive of this, give them an incentive to leave housing vacant.

Now, let me say this to the gentleman: His amendment didn't say housing that was physically unoccupiable . I agree the bill does not make that consideration. I would say to the gentleman, going forward, we might be able to work on a situation where units that were physically not habitable might not be counted. I agree with that. If that was the amendment, I think we might be working something out, and I hope we will as it goes forward. But what the gentleman's amendment says, units that are perfectly in good shape, that the authority either can't rent because they are incompetent or decides not to, that those can be disregarded.

So I hope the amendment is defeated. But I would promise to work with the gentleman as we go forward so that units that are in fact not habitable, not occupiable, would not be counted.

I would yield to the gentleman.

Mr. NEUGEBAUER. I thank the gentleman. I do understand that there could be a small minority of housing authorities trying to accomplish some purpose by keeping those units vacant, but I would say we are being probably more prescriptive for the ones that are vacant.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Taking back my time, I would agree with that if we didn't have a waiver in there, if we didn't have a variety of ways of meeting the one-for-one replacement. It is not all public housing. In fact, one of the things I plan to do in future legislation in cooperation with my colleagues is to go to some of the other housing programs we may have, maybe the Low Income Housing Fund or others, and give a preference to housing authorities who have that HOPE VI obligation. So, in other words, there would be a wide variety of ways in which they could replace the housing, not simply by public housing, because, I agree, that would be self-defeating.

Mr. NEUGEBAUER. If the gentleman would yield, I would appreciate working with the gentleman on that particular provision of making sure that those units that are not habitable now would not be counted.

Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. I appreciate that. I thank the gentleman.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. Mr. Chairman, first, there are two points,
and the gentlewoman tends to confuse the two. One is should there be flexibility in the standard. Both versions have that. Our version says the green communities or a standard promulgated by the Secretary, but we say it has to be substantially equivalent in what it accomplishes.

Secondly and more important, the bill with the manager's amendment says that a green component must be in any HOPE VI application. The gentlewoman dilutes that. She says it will be one factor that can be considered. But under her proposal, if you are very strong elsewhere, they would not have to be very much in the green. So there is a real difference there. We both say it is a good idea, but the bill says you must include the green component. Her bill says you may include the green component. You will get points if you do, but you might not. Both have flexibility as to how you reach that.

Now I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from Massachusetts (Mr. Olver), the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on HUD and Transportation.

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Mr. FRANK of Massachusetts. First, Mr. Chairman, yes, the carpenters objected to the LEED standard. They did not object to the green community standard. We thought the objection was reasonable and met it.

Secondly, again, the bill, without the gentlewoman's amendment, does provide flexibility. We say, however, that when HUD does an alternative proposal, it has to meet the minimum standard. That is the difference.

We put in the minimum. The other difference is that her amendment would allow some of the projects to go forward without green components, depending on how they were otherwise rated and others would not.

I yield for the remainder of our time to the head of our Subcommittee on Energy Efficiency for the Financial Services Committee, my colleague, Mr. Perlmutter of Colorado.


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