Opening Statements of Committee Members


Opening Statement of Vice Chairman Rick Santorum (R-PA)

Hearing on S.2733 - The Affordable Housing for Seniors Act
2:00 p.m., Tuesday, July 18, 2000 - Dirksen 538


Good afternoon. Today, the Subcommittee is holding a legislative hearing to examine The Affordable Housing for Seniors and Families Act (S. 2733). Specifically, this hearing will highlight the ways in which S. 2733 fills financing gaps and improves current federal housing programs for vulnerable seniors, disabled persons, and low-income families. Let me begin by thanking Senator Allard for graciously allowing me to chair this hearing. I would also like to thank the original cosponsors of S. 2733, the Ranking Member of this Subcommittee, Sen. Kerry and the Ranking Member of the Banking Committee, Senator Sarbanes.

Finding affordable housing is becoming extremely difficult for those with very-low-incomes. Each year, hundreds of thousands of affordable housing units are removed from the existing stock of affordable housing. According to Harvard University's Joint Center for Housing Studies, nearly 900,000 unsubsidized units of affordable housing were lost between 1993 and 1995 due to rising rents or demolition. With respect to federally subsidized housing, approximately 90,000 units were lost by the end of 1999 due to mortgage prepayments or Section 8 opt-outs. To make matters worse, HUD estimates that 5.4 million families have "worst-case" housing needs; that is, they are either paying over half of their incomes for rent or living in substandard housing. Of these households, 1.4 million, or 26 percent, are elderly or disabled. The scarcity of affordable housing is particularly troubling for seniors and the disabled, since they may need special structural accommodations in their homes, assistance with day-to-day activities, and may have fixed incomes. As Vice Chairman of the Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation, and as a member of the Aging Committee, I feel a heightened sense of urgency in helping these special populations find affordable housing.

Federal assistance is provided for elderly and disabled housing through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Section 202 and Section 811 programs, respectively. By law, sponsors of Section 202 and Section 811 housing projects must be non-profit organizations. Many are faith-based. The income of eligible tenants may not exceed 50 percent of the area median income. Due to the increasing demand for special needs housing and the very nature of these programs, project sponsors have asked for more flexibility in financing and operation. S. 2733 builds upon and improves the public-private partnerships established by the Section 202 and Section 811 programs.

S. 2733 responds to the need for both additional resources and flexibility in the delivery of these important programs. The bill reauthorizes federal funding for Section 202 and Section 811 programs, and requires sponsors to use their new financing flexibility for improving the quality of housing and care for these vulnerable populations. Likewise, the bill facilitates a "continuum of care" for seniors and the disabled, allowing them to continue living independently in their homes or apartments as they become older or more frail. Likewise, S. 2733 seeks to improve health care delivery for the elderly and handicapped by modernizing current law, which allows the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to insure mortgages for hospitals, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes.

Finally, I am pleased to say that this legislation responds to the general affordable housing crisis for low-income families. It authorizes a matching grant program to assist state and local governments who are devoting their own monies to the preservation of federally assisted housing. Also, the bill authorizes competitive grants to provide stop-gap financing assistance for non-profit organizations who wish to acquire federally assisted housing.

Together, the measures authorized in S. 2733 take a comprehensive approach to preserving affordable housing, creating additional housing developments for elderly and disabled persons, and allowing these individuals to retain their independence, even as their need for assistance in daily activities may increase.

On September 27, 1999, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the Preserving Affordable Housing for Senior Citizens in the 21st Century Act (H.R. 202) by a vote of 405-5. Several aspects of H.R. 202, which protected residents in the event that their landlords did not renew their project based Section 8 contracts, were included in the FY 2000 VA-HUD-Independent Agencies Appropriations Act. S. 2733 is modeled on the House-passed bill, without the preservation provisions that have already been enacted. I am pleased that Rep. Lazio, Chairman of the House Housing and Community Opportunity Subcommittee, and Rep. LaFalce, Ranking Member of the House Banking Committee, are joining us to discuss their efforts in crafting and passing the House legislation.

I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of our panelists. I especially want to thank Ms. Ronell Guy, who traveled here from Pittsburgh to give an example of how this bill can help real people, revitalize neighborhoods, and give low-income Americans an opportunity to become homeowners.

Finally, I would like to acknowledge the support I have received from another Pittsburgher, Ms. Aggie Brose. Ms. Brose is Deputy Director of the Bloomfield / Garfield Corp. She also works with Garfield Jubilee. Aggie has worked closely with me and my staff on community revitalization and HOPE VI projects in the Pittsburgh area. I am deeply appreciative of her support for this bill, and I will ask that her written statement be made part of the permanent record.