News Releases

Senator Murray Meets with Affordable Housing Advocates and Tenants to Protect Washington's Families from Bush Administration Policies

Jun 30 2004

Murray Brings Together a Statewide Coalition of Housing Leaders to Review the Impact of Section 8 Changes on Tacoma, Seattle, Spokane, Bremerton, Vancouver, Yakima

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(TACOMA, WA) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) hosted a roundtable discussion to hear from about 50 members of Washington's affordable housing communities as they deal with controversial changes the Bush Administration has made to federal housing programs such as Section 8.

The meeting, at the Family Investment Center in Tacoma, brought together city and county housing authorities, non-profit housing development organizations, advocates for the homeless, tenants, and the head of the state Housing Finance Commission.

Murray organized the meeting to hear directly from those on the frontlines of Washington's affordable housing crisis.

"The reason I wanted to bring all of us together today is because the housing crisis is getting more severe but federal support is declining. And I know that HUD's changes to Section 8 are really wreaking havoc," Murray said. "It's putting even more pressure on the families who rely on you to keep a roof over their heads every night."

Murray said the roundtable was an opportunity to gather facts so she can make the case for Washington communities in the United States Senate.

"I want to get your stories and your examples so that when I'm fighting for you on the Senate floor and on the Appropriations Committee I can hold up specific examples of how these federal decisions affect families in Tacoma, or Kitsap, or Spokane," Murray said.

Last April, the Bush Administration changed the reimbursement formula for Section 8 housing vouchers, which more than 45,000 Washington families rely on. The changes mean less money for affordable housing in Washington state.

"They're playing games with the formula for housing vouchers in ways that will reduce the number of vouchers for low-income working families in Washington state and around the country And they've made it retroactive – taking vouchers away from people who finally got help after waiting on a waiting list for months," Murray said.

After the Bush Administration announced the change last year, Murray took several steps to protect Washington families. In May 2003, she sent a letter to the HUD Secretary with other Democratic Senators. On January 22, 2004, she voted for the Omnibus Appropriations bill, which increased Section 8 funding by $1 billion. She is also an original cosponsor of S. 2467, which clarifies that renewals should be based on the most accurate, up-to-date method.

Participants in today's roundtable included Kim Herman (executive director, WA Housing Finance Commission), Peter Ansara (Tacoma Housing Authority), Dianne Quast (executive director, Spokane Housing Authority), Lynn Davison (executive director, Common Ground), Norman McLoughlin (executive director, Kitsap County Housing Authority), and low-income housing advocates.

Murray called the lack of affordable housing a "silent epidemic."

"Housing is one of the most important but least talked about challenges. People don't want to talk about how close they are to losing their house or to not being able to afford rent," she said. "I think there's something in our society that makes people feel like they've failed if they can't afford housing, but in this slow economy with housing prices going up and interest rates expected to rise, it's a challenge that more and more families are facing."

Murray has been a longtime supporter of increased access to affordable housing in Washington state. She successfully advocated for Public Housing Operation and Capital Funds, Section 8, CDBG and HOME, and HOPE VI. She has used her position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to see that the money for these programs gets to her home state. She helped secure a $35 million HOPE VI grant to the Tacoma Housing Authority to redevelop the Salishan community, where today's roundtable was held.

Senator Murray's Opening Remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

I want to welcome all of you to this roundtable on affordable housing. I know some of you have come a long way, and I appreciate you being here, and I'm looking forward to your input. In this room, we've brought together leaders from city and county housing authorities, non-profit housing development organizations, advocates for the homeless, and the state Housing Finance Commission.

I know that you are the people who are on the frontlines in this tough economy – standing up for families who need help. I also know that you're working harder than ever. You're being asked to do more with less, and your commitment is the only thing that is keeping many families from falling through the cracks.

The reason I wanted to bring all of us together today is because the housing crisis is getting more severe but federal support is declining. And I know that HUD's changes to Section 8 are really wreaking havoc. It's putting even more pressure on the families who rely on you to keep a roof over their heads every night. As I've been fighting in Washington, D.C. for the policies and funding our families need, you've been doing your best here on the frontlines.

I thought it was important for us to sit down together and touch base as I get ready to back to the Senate next week and work on housing issues. I want to get your stories and your examples so that when I'm fighting for you on the Senate floor and on the Appropriations Committee, I can hold up specific examples of how these federal decisions affect families in Tacoma, or Kitsap or Spokane.

Once again this year, the VA-HUD bill is at the end of the line for appropriations. It will probably be one of the last bills deal with this year. We've got to make sure that even if it's done late – it's done right. I am really proud of the partnership that we've built over the years, and it's come from having an open dialogue.

You've kept me up-to-date on the needs you're seeing in the community. Whenever you've needed me to send a letter to the Administration, or fight for funding, or challenge Administrations of both parties to do the right thing on housing I've been proud to do it. And our partnership has produced good results.

I've used my position on the Senate Appropriations Committee to help fund the major housing programs – like Public Housing Operation and Capital Funds, Section 8, CDBG and HOME, and HOPE VI. And it's not just about supporting programs at the national level, but making sure those dollars end up here in Washington state. As just one example, I was honored to help secure a $35 million HOPE VI grant to the Tacoma Housing Authority to redevelop the Salishan community, where we're meeting today.

I've also been a strong supporter of funding for the McKinney Act, and I'm pleased that funding for the programs under the McKinney Act has remained strong. And we can't forget the housing challenges in our rural communities. One of my big efforts has been to address the longstanding problem of farmworker housing. It's not just a housing issue – it's a health issue and a moral issue as well. That's why I secured $1.75 million in FY 2001 for farmworker housing in our state. And it's why in FY 2003, I secured $180,000 for the Rural and Farmworker Housing Trust.

In addition to appropriations, I've also been pleased to support your work on the legislative side. I also cosponsored two bills to raise the caps on the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the Private Activity Bonds tax credits. Both of those bills became law – giving us new money to build affordable housing. I've also been pleased to cosponsor the National Housing Trust Fund.

So we've worked together over the years and we've gotten good results. We need to keep that same energy and optimism as we take on the Administration's approach to Section 8.

You know, in the United States Senate, I deal with dozens of issues, and often it feels like housing is one of the most important – but least talked about challenges. People don't want to talk about how close they are to losing their house or to not being able to afford rent.

I think there's something in our society that makes people feel like they've failed if they can't afford housing but in this slow economy, with housing prices going up, and interest rates expected to rise, it's a challenge that more and more families are facing.

And we can help them – by growing our economy, investing in our infrastructure, creating jobs – and by making housing more affordable. That's why some of the things that HUD is doing today are so disturbing. Let me say a few words about the Section 8 voucher program.

As you know, Section 8 is critical for Washington state. It serves more than 45,000 households throughout our state. But that progress is really threatened today by what this Administration is doing – and I know you're feeling the impact. You've been doing the right things – following the guidance that's in the law – and then HUD goes and changes the rules in ways that hurt families.

As you know, last April, HUD announced a new approach to the Section 8 Voucher program for Fiscal Year 2004. They're playing games with the formula for housing vouchers in ways that will reduce the number of vouchers for low-income working families in Washington state and around the country And they've made it retroactive – taking vouchers away from people who finally got help after waiting on a waiting list for months.

To me, that's just wrong. HUD should be doing more to provide affordable housing to vulnerable families – not cutting off support for those who need it most.

When HUD announced those changes, I heard from everyone in this room, and I want to thank you for your input and your voice. As a result of your comments, I was pleased to join with other Democratic Senators to send a very strong letter to HUD on May 14th expressing my strong concern about the decision, and requesting that full funding be restored.

For those of you who haven't seen it, we've got copies of that letter here today if you want to take a look. But it takes more than a letter to get things done in Washington, D.C. It also takes funding, and it takes legislation. So I was an original co-sponsor of a bill that would undo those retroactive cuts.

That bill – S. 2467 -- clarifies that renewals should be based on the most accurate, up-to-date method. We've got 20 other Senators on that bill so far. And I worked to boost the funding. In the Omnibus bill that I voted for last year, we increased Section 8 funding by $1 billion – so that we could – at the very least – maintain all existing vouchers.

Because of our work, HUD did make some modifications, but from what I've heard so far is that it's not enough. And that's one of the reasons I want to hear from you.

So let me stop here so we can have more of a dialogue. I want you to know I'm really proud of the work that all of you are doing. I'm proud to be your partner in the United States Senate, and I want to hear exactly what you're seeing on the frontlines so I can make the most effective case possible in Washington, D.C.