Senate appropriators recently addressed the plight of public housing residents and seniors in assisted housing and the full Senate followed their lead in voting to extend RAD in a responsive way in coming fiscal year. They called for raising the RAD cap on public housing conversions from 185,000 units to 250,000 units, and allowing an estimated 120,000 units of Section 202-supported housing to convert under RAD’s 2nd component. House appropriators, however, opted for a “wait and see approach,” and declined to act on RAD in FY 2017.
But there is no good reason to wait. RAD’s proof of concept of being able to inject otherwise unavailable capital into affordable housing in need of repairs is plain to see. HUD’s most recent data—soon to be confirmed in a 2nd interim evaluation report—shows that nearly 50,000 units of housing have already been converted to long-term, stable funding contracts. Of the more than 30,000 units of public housing units that have closed, over $2 billion in construction financing has been generated for needed improvements. This outstrips the $1.9 billion in the capital funding that the House appropriations bill offers in FY 2017 for the entire 1.1 million units of public housing across the country not now participating in RAD.
Beyond the billions in additional capital being generated, there is more to RAD that that can be seen: thousands of construction workers are on the job fixing up public housing this summer; most of the units undergoing upgrades will have energy-retrofits for the winter ahead; residents seem pleased with the fast pace of RAD-funded improvements—as opposed to the slow trickle of emergency repairs that most housing authorities are forced to juggle given their current limited capital funds. Plus, RAD enables housing authorities for the first time to budget replacement reserves for major systems that will have to be replaced down the road.
Waiting to see more of what RAD can do will only reinforce an “uncertainty fatigue” that is beginning to affect housing authorities and their partners’ consideration of RAD. Uncertainty fosters inaction, not demonstration. The initial 60,000 unit cap was outstripped within a year of RAD’s enactment—with a buildup of a waiting list in excess of 120,000 units. After a year of uncertainty for those in the queue, Congress lifted the cap to 185,000 units. Yet this effectively limited participation in RAD to only those able to wait out what Congress would do, rather than encourage other housing authorities see if RAD might help them. Regrettably once again, the only way for agencies to test RAD now is to get in a queue with an uncertain outcome.
The on/off approach to RAD is counter to the sequencing and pacing of affordable housing development. It forces housing authorities to execute RAD within arbitrarily-constricted and unrealistic development timeframes. It unnecessarily bunches up and then sputters the demand for LIHTCs and other affordable housing capital funds that are typically allocated in annual funding cycles. It compels agencies to quickly ratchet up—then unpredictably and inefficiently wind down—needed internal and partner capacities, which may soon be required to be ratcheted up again. It also needlessly raises the hopes of residents waiting for their apartments to be repaired or replaced, then either dashes them again like other promised HUD programs, or requires them to accommodate hurried construction-related relocation schedules.
But it is not too late to avoid all this. The Senate’s RAD proposals will have to be reconciled in a conference committee in a run-up to an expected omnibus appropriations bill after the November elections. Join the RAD Collaborative in urging House appropriators to accept the Senate’s RAD provisions. And ask your representatives in the House and Senate to ask House appropriators—and authorizers on the Financial Services Committee often consulted in the process—to take a good look at what RAD is doing now, and direct conferees to support RAD this year.
Waiting to see more of what RAD is already doing unnecessarily returns public housing back to the unacceptable reality before RAD was an option—a growing backlog of needed repairs and the demolition of thousands of units falling beyond repair every year. That much is certain, and needless, if the RAD’s uncertainty is addressed now.
Patrick Costigan is a Strategic Advisor to the RAD Collaborative