income families to neighborhoods that do not offer what most middle-class families seek in their housing: good schools, proximity to quality jobs, and quality services.
Roles of State and Local Housing Agencies
The administration of federal housing assistance is complex and confusing, with funds for various pro- grams flowing independently of one another to state housing finance agencies (Low Income Housing Tax Credits), local public housing authorities (public housing and vouchers), private owners (developments with federal subsidy contracts), and state and local departments of housing and community develop- ment (HOME and CDBG block grants). And cities typically have distinct agencies for the separate but overlapping tasks of housing finance, housing pro- duction, housing preservation, housing regulation, public housing administration, community develop- ment, neighborhood redevelopment, planning and zoning, and other special initiatives. This balkani- zation of administration makes it difficult for local communities to plan effectively, to allocate scarce resources strategically, or even systematically assess unmet needs.
In Washington, D.C., for example, seven sepa- rate organizations are significantly involved in affordable housing production and administra- tion—the Department of Housing and Commu- nity Development, the Housing Finance Agency, the District of Columbia Housing Authority, the National Capital Revitalization Corporation, the Housing Production Trust Fund, and the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development— and no single individual or entity has the author- ity to coordinate or hold them all accountable.
Public housing is built, owned, and operated by local autonomous bodies called public housing authorities (PHAs), established for the express purpose of administering the federal public housing program. These PHAs also administer the housing voucher program. Most PHAs rely primarily (or even exclusively) on the federal government for funding and must adhere to federal rules and procedures.17
Typically, the executive director of a local PHA does not report directly to the city’s mayor, but rather to a board of directors, some of whose members are appointed by the mayor. Some jurisdictions have made their PHAs part of the local housing department, with more explicit accountability to the mayor. How- ever, even in these cases, federal rules control most aspects of program administration, and local policy- makers often perceive public housing and vouchers as outside their control.
In Baltimore, the city’s department of housing and community development and its PHA were con- solidated into a single agency, called Baltimore Housing, whose director is appointed by the mayor. In contrast, Atlanta’s PHA operates inde- pendently of the city’s department of housing and community development, with the chief executive officer accountable not to the mayor but to a board of commissioners composed of local business and civic leaders.
Because PHAs are agencies of local government, most metropolitan regions have several PHAs, serv- ing different jurisdictions. This complicates voucher program operations because (at least in principle) recipients can use their vouchers anywhere, regard- less of which jurisdiction issued them. But voucher portability is hindered by the red tape involved in transferring families (and subsidy resources) from one PHA to another. Finally, not all jurisdictions have PHAs; communities without PHAs have no public housing, but state-level PHAs generally administer federal housing vouchers in these areas.
HUD directly funds and monitors the operation of privately owned properties that receive deep federal subsidies. Each property maintains its own waiting lists, selects eligible residents, and reports to HUD. Local government exercises no authority or control over these properties. However, as subsidy contracts with HUD expire, many communities face the problem of losing affordable housing and helping low-income families at risk of displacement. There- fore, local housing departments are getting involved in providing new subsidies to some of these properties, most often using some combination of HOME funds, the LIHTC, and local resources.