Administration of Housing Programs

SIC 9531

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category covers government establishments engaged in the administration, planning, and development of housing programs. The category also includes government building standards agencies and nonoperating government housing agencies and housing authorities. Insurance and finance areas are classified in Finance, Division H. The operation and rental of apartments and houses is classified in Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate SIC 6510: Real Estate Operators (Except Developers) and Lessors. SIC 9532: Administration of Urban Planning and Community and Rural Development covers government agencies and commissions, with the private establishments engaged in this work classified in services in the major group for engineering, accounting, research, management, and related services.

Industry Snapshot

Administration of housing programs is the central task of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which was created by an act of Congress in 1965. Other governmental housing programs include the Veterans Administration housing program and the Farmers Home Administration, which are overseen by the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture, respectively. The original legislation broadly mandated HUD to administer federal housing programs, promote the solution of urban problems, and provide funding for housing via private institutions. Consistent with that mandate, HUD's major focus continued to be on increasing homeownership across the country, providing assistance for the homeless, improving public housing, and administering block grants for economic and urban development of targeted areas. Major issues for the organization were lack of funding, inconsistent presidential support, and conflicting congressional directives.

In the early 2010s, HUD was busy trying to repair the damage done by the subprime mortgage crisis of the late 2000s, which began in the early 2000s when average interest rates fell to historic lows, causing a boom in the housing industry. The early years of the twenty-first century saw a record number of people buying homes, including first-time homebuyers, low-income buyers, minorities, and immigrants. Basically one of HUD's objectives was being fulfilled in grand style. However, many of the mortgage loans were low-interest adjustable rate mortgages (ARMs), and when these low interest rates expired, many homeowners found they could not make their house payment. In the meantime, housing prices dropped and the economy entered a recession. Foreclosures rose to record highs: In 2009, more than 2.8 million houses were foreclosed on.

In reaction to the financial crisis that ensued, the U.S. government made several attempts to keep the economy afloat, one of these of which was the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, which the Insurance Information Institute called "a $700 billion rescue plan for the U.S. financial services industry." This included the government takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which together were facing more than $1 trillion in debt from subprime mortgages. As of 2011, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac remained in conservatorship, where they had been placed by the FHFA in 2008.

Amid this crisis situation, HUD received help in the form of $13.6 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Still, as the nation entered the second decade of the twenty-first century, federal housing programs were in danger of losing millions in funding.

Organization and Structure

The secretary of housing and urban development is assisted by a deputy secretary. Together they oversee a chief of staff, as well as assistant secretaries for administration, community planning and development, congressional and intergovernmental relations, fair housing and equal opportunity, housing and federal housing, policy development and research, public and Native American housing, and public affairs, in addition to an overall support staff of several thousand employees. HUD deals with approximately 3,000 public housing agencies that disperse about 80 percent of all HUD funds and manage more than 1 million housing units. Before the financial crisis of the late 2000s, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) and the Government National Mortgage Association, or Ginnie Mae, operated within HUD with considerable autonomy. The private Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae, was the corporate "sister" of Ginnie Mae and was subject to regulation by HUD. In 2008, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation) were placed into conservatorship by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA). As of January 2011, plans were still not finalized on whether the agencies would be privatized.

Background and Development

Since the birth of the nation, government has been concerned with the growth and distribution of its population. During the mid-nineteenth century the Department of Agriculture was created to address the many needs of farming families and agricultural laborers, who then constituted two-thirds of American society. A century later, the United States had largely completed its transition from a predominantly agrarian to a predominantly urban economy and population. With this transition came a growing demand for an agency, or agencies, to address the many problems associated with urban expansion.

New Deal Era.
The economic disaster caused by the Great Depression forced urban and housing problems to a federal level for the first time in American history. In 1932, under Herbert Hoover, the Federal Home Loan Bank system was created in an attempt to shore up the housing industry and keep savings and loan associations above water. With Franklin Delano Roosevelt's inauguration came the New Deal, a massive series of programs that, among other things, restructured the country's housing finance and regulatory system. In 1934 the FHA was created to provide mortgage insurance to banks and other financial institutions. In 1935 the Resettlement Administration was created to begin a number of housing and resettlement projects, including those related to eliminating unproductive farms. Two years later the U.S. Housing Authority was created to support and oversee public housing.

In the 1940s the federal government's foray into urban policy was also driven by pressing national problems. The National Housing Agency (NHA) was created to provide housing for World War II workers. Once the war ended, the agency began housing planning but soon became a casualty in a new political war, for in 1946 a Republican-led congress denied permanent status to the NHA. So instead of becoming an independent department, housing was placed under the Housing and Home Finance Agency (HHFA). The HHFA was not strongly positioned in the structure of the federal government and continued to shift with the political winds of the day. Nonetheless, the FHA by itself played a fundamental postwar role in managing suburban housing growth and freeing up money for new, lower-income homeowners.

The federal housing policy was at last clearly stated under the Housing Act of 1949, which said there should be "a decent home in a suitable living environment for every American family." This law was closely tied to the Employment Act of 1946, but neither was ever made part of a larger, cohesive national policy for both promoting and controlling urban growth.

Legislation for a cabinet-level department to deal with urban renewal problems was first introduced in 1954, but it lacked necessary support of the public and the Eisenhower administration to become law. Yet momentum continued to gather within the National Housing Conference (NHC), a liberal organization devoted to the expansion of federal redevelopment and housing policies. William L.C. Wheaton, once with the NHA, was an avid supporter of the NHC proposals and understood the need to tie them to a strong constituency. He knew that it had to be a segment that already had some clout in Washington, like the private sector groups that were already involved in housing: thrift institutions, realtors, home builders, and mortgage bankers. Wheaton also was aware that there was a tide of support in Congress for new suburban housing and development that also would assist the cause.

John F. Kennedy's election in 1960 further increased the momentum toward the creation of the department. Kennedy planned to work with Robert Weaver, his new administrator of the HHFA, toward that end. However, according to Rachel G. Bratt and W. Dennis Keating in Urban Affairs Quarterly, "conservative southern opposition to the likely appointment of Weaver as the first black cabinet officer resulted in rejection of the administration's legislation in January 1962 by the House Rules Committee." Other efforts under Kennedy also failed.

Original Legislation.
By 1965, with Lyndon Johnson in office, political and public support was finally in place. The real estate industry was the last group that strongly opposed the creation of a department of housing. Congress passed the legislation in August of 1965 just as a period of widespread urban unrest (1965 to 1968) was ignited, first in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. Weaver was appointed to be the first HUD Secretary the following January, after the passage of ground-breaking civil rights legislation. In 1968, some concrete goals were established for HUD. These included the creation over the next 10 years of 26 million new and rehabilitated housing units, 6 million of which were to be for low- and moderate-income Americans.

HUD made its mark on the urban environment in the 1960s and early 1970s through the development of multifamily housing in inner city areas where whole blocks were razed under the auspices of urban renewal and slum clearance. The federal government encouraged local nonprofit agencies and residents to join in the process. The FHA, the government's mortgage insurance underwriter and a part of HUD, opposed the role the inexperienced nonprofits were playing. The FHA had a history of conservative underwriting that clashed with the social mission of getting housing into low-income, high-risk areas. In addition, as William Harris wrote in the Journal of Housing, "The issue of who controlled the delivery of the Department's program at the regional and local levels became a critical element in determining how these programs would be administered--HUD vs. FHA, liberal voice vs. conservative." This was a conflict that paralleled the organization's history.

Richard Nixon, elected in 1968, set the tone for how HUD money would be used to build housing by supporting a "supply-side" housing strategy. The construction of low-rent housing was spurred on by such subsidized interest programs as Section 235 (homeownership) and Section 236 (rental). Interest rates as low as 1 percent were available for builders of low-income housing projects. Subsidies would be handled through the newly formed Ginnie Mae, and private investment would be stimulated through the National Corporation for Housing Partnerships and Freddie Mac. Yet, according to Bratt and Keating, "the infusion of funds, without sufficient federal safeguards and oversight, created a situation prone to disaster. In numerous congressional hearings, a string of scandals, and abuses on the part of private real estate brokers, home builders, mortgage lenders, and FHA appraisers was disclosed, constituting the first major scandal to rock the young agency."

HUD's subsidized housing programs were put on hold in 1973, and the department was realigned by the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974. Section 236 was replaced by Section 8 rent subsidies for multiunit housing. Also under this act, the Community Development Block Grant program was developed to consolidate urban development grants for water and sewer, streets, and other public service improvement projects. The result was a separation of the housing and community development units.

The support that successfully brought HUD into existence was not there to sustain the agency in reaching its 10-year goal, which ended in 1978. Although 80 percent of the units outlined in the goal were created (when including mobile homes in that count), only 45 percent of the 6 million low- and moderate-income units were actually built or rehabilitated. Some speculated that part of the reason low-income public housing programs failed to be fully implemented was due to the contemporary social views regarding public housing and the costs involved with the Vietnam War. In addition, the initial urgency of the mission fueled by the urban unrest of the time died down with the cessation of violence and the election of conservative presidents. As it turned out, HUD housing production peaked in 1972.

Section 8 Housing.
Developed under the administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, Section 8 housing was intended to reduce government housing assistance costs by shifting money away from long-term to short-term rent subsidies. Instead, the funding for additional public housing fell on Section 221 money that was loaned at 3 percent interest. Not only did Section 8 ultimately cost much more than Section 236, but the philosophical differences--sound fiscal policy voice and social responsibility--still raged on within the department.

Section 8 was unpopular due to its cost and also due to its "spatial concentration" provision. Johnson's Great Society programs were implemented in a manner that perpetuated racial and economic segregation by razing and then rebuilding whole neighborhoods. Section 8 provided economic incentives for builders and local governments to bring low-income housing to a broader diversity of neighborhoods and not just to concentrate them in poor non-white areas.

HUD under Reagan.
Support for many social change programs was dramatically reduced during the Reagan years. Eric Addison in the Journal of Housing wrote, "Perhaps no federal agency was more affected by the Reagan administration's attempt to reduce federal spending than the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Between 1981 and 1988, the department's spending authority dropped from $33.4 billion to just over $15 billion per year." Rather than focusing on subsidizing new rental unit construction, as had been done previously, the Reagan administration directed HUD to rehabilitate existing housing and assist tenants through a housing voucher system and rent subsidies. The administration also sponsored Enterprise Zones, a program that encouraged businesses to locate within economically depressed areas in exchange for tax and regulatory breaks.

Unfortunately, in 1989 another HUD scandal came to light. Just as in the early 1970s, the scandal revolved around realtors, mortgage lenders, and the co-insured. A general lack of supervision of federal contracting, according to some critics, allowed for discretionary funds to be funneled to favored developers. Samuel R. Pierce, Jr., head of HUD under Ronald Reagan, took the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify at the hearings regarding the misuse of funds. However, in 1992 two of Pierce's assistants were indicted in what appeared to be an influence-peddling conspiracy.

Indications that something was amiss in HUD were ignored in spite of early warning signs. "A GAO report in 1984--five years before the scandals--should have alerted Congress and HUD to the severity of its problems," reported Financial World. The article went on to quote Judy England-Joseph, director of housing and community development issues at the General Accounting Office (GAO): "Until you have a smoking gun, people don't understand what's at stake when you don't have the right information systems in place or the right financial management systems. People aren't willing to spend a lot of money to bring a department like HUD on track."

The HUD Reform Act of 1989 followed the disclosure of the HUD abuses of the 1980s. One of the changes was the addition of a chief financial operator and a comptroller for each major operating division. In addition, the secretary's discretionary fund was eliminated and waivers of HUD rules became subject to disclosure. Improvements implemented by HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, under the George Bush administration, included a system to track the sale of single-family homes and a plan to improve the information and financial management systems. All improvements were related to preventing a repeat of past abuses. The primary focus of HUD during the Bush years was damage repair. And there were a lot of problems with image control as well. For many, HUD had become virtually synonymous with mismanaged and misdirected big government programs.

Long-term problems still remained in spite of Kemp's actions; Kemp himself was hampered from fully implementing such promising ideas as revamping HUD operations through tenant ownership of public housing. In general, poor financial and data management systems and an organizational structure that allowed for too much freedom in the local and regional offices were cited as reasons for HUD's poor performance. Examples of the severity of the problems were illustrated by the fact that contracts of rent records had not been reconciled for 15 years. HUD's 1991 financial statement was so inaccurate and lacking in current financial information that the auditor, Price Waterhouse, could not file an opinion.

Nonetheless, wrote Addison, "in the public mind, HUD is public housing. Media descriptions of HUD as the federal agency responsible for public housing have led many to believe that the reports of scandal referred to the activities of local housing and development officials. In that respect, the real victims of the HUD abuses have been the local officials, managers, and administrators--those far removed from the machinations at HUD Central." Addison claimed the real HUD scandal was the emphasis put on the unethical practices of the few and neglect of the success of the department. "Indeed, when it comes to providing housing for low- and moderate-income people, no other group, not even the private sector, has been shown to perform as effectively and efficiently as the public housing industry."

Reinventing HUD.
In July of 1993 a National Journal article described the task facing the new HUD secretary, Henry G. Cisneros, and his staff as follows: "The mission: Bring order out of management chaos. Turn a frustrated, cynical, and defensive bureaucracy into an active partner in urban innovation. Recast controversial old programs such as public housing into models of new Democratic effectiveness, while creating and implementing forward-looking programs such as empowerment zones. And, by the way, don't spend any more money."

During Cisneros' first few months as HUD secretary, much was written about his commitment to social change via federal housing and urban development policy. When Los Angeles was devastated by riots in 1992 following the acquittal of L.A. police officers on trial for beating motorist Rodney King, Cisneros, though out of public office at the time, was on the scene calling for changes in urban policy. Laurie McGinley, in an April 1993 Wall Street Journal article, described the hopes Cisneros brought with him to HUD. "In his first months in office, Mr. Cisneros has developed 'principles' for retooling urban programs, including reducing the concentration of the poor in the inner city; using housing policy to provide 'an economic ladder'; and trying to change 'self destructive behaviors on both sides of the racial divide.'" In September of 1993 William Fulton wrote in Planning that Cisneros "recommended that public housing regulations be reformed to support four values he believes HUD should promote: community, family, economic 'lift,' and individual rights and responsibilities." And at the end of 1993, Cisneros issued a memo to President Bill Clinton calling for "a multifaceted urban policy," with tax and housing credits for the working poor, expanded homeownership programs, and economic empowerment zones to encourage business investment.

Actions taken by Cisneros in 1993, as part of his "Reinventing HUD" initiative, included: fostering cooperation, through the National Community Development Training Institute, among local governments and community organizations for better delivery of services; launching a $100 million public-private initiative to create a leadership fund; and generating half a billion dollars in pension money for Section 8 housing, through a joint program with the AFL-CIO.

Wavering support in Washington, not to mention around the country, was tied directly to HUD's generally poor performance record. As Bruce Reed, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy, said in an April 1993 Wall Street Journal article, "This country has spent billions and billions over the last 30 years with relatively little impact. Our goal is to empower communities to develop their own recovery plans and become economically viable." Empowerment Zones, the Clinton administration's $5 billion, four-year plan for inner-city areas such as south central Los Angeles, was preceded by Truman's Urban Renewal, Kennedy's War on Poverty, Johnson and Nixon's Model Cities, Ford's Community Development Block Grants, Jimmy Carter's Urban Development Action Grants, and Reagan and Bush's Enterprise Zones. Nicholas Lemann has posited that all such programs have promised the illusion of wholesale economic development when, in fact, such basic social services as housing and day care for ghetto dwellers have been the most urgently needed and the most easily provided. As he wrote for New York Times Magazine in January 1994, "Economic revitalization efforts pass every test but one, the reality test. They are popular among all the key players in antipoverty policy; they sound good; they have bipartisan appeal; they are based on tax breaks rather than on spending so are easier to pass. The only problem is that so far they haven't worked--which creates a larger problem."

HUD problems are perhaps rooted essentially in the broadness of the departmental goals as set forth in the 1965 legislation, but perhaps also in the very structure of the agency, which lacks interdepartmental control over such related federal agencies as the Farmers Home Administration, the Veterans Administration housing program, and the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. HUD, the department that in Cisneros' words "has the explicit responsibility for America's cities and urban places," has virtually no control over farm and veterans housing or thrift financing and has always had limited control over its public-private partnerships and relationships with state and local agencies.

It is this very type of government inefficiency and inadequacy that was the subject of The Gore Report on Reinventing Government, which offered broad restructuring recommendations for a number of departments, including HUD. In particular, the report placed a new emphasis on competition among public housing managers and creating market-rate housing that would serve both publicly subsidized and market-rate tenants. Vice President Al Gore, as chairman of the newly created Community Enterprise Board, promised to play a key role in implementing the Clinton administration's housing policy, which in 1994 was focused on targeting a number of impoverished inner-city areas for economic revitalization through tax breaks and other incentives. In addition, HOME, a matching grant program for state and local governments that was created by the 1990 housing act, was being allowed greater latitude and authority to make its own contributions toward reinventing the housing administration industry.

A government financial analysis of HUD completed in 1996 showed that FHA cumulative losses with both General Insurance (GI) and Special Risk Insurance (SRI) mortgage insurance funds was greater than the appropriated capital in both 1994 and 1995. During 1995, the FHA and Ginnie Mae loss reserves amounted to $11.5 billion. This was a decrease of approximately $1.1 billion from 1994. Still, premiums generated by GI and SRI funds were not enough to offset these losses. Mutual Mortgage Insurance showed a loss of approximately $318 billion; Cooperative Management Housing Insurance, $298 million; GI almost $75 billion; and SRI more than $10 billion.

During Clinton's second term as president, Andrew Cuomo took over as the secretary of HUD. With Cuomo at the helm, the president pledged a goal of 67.5 percent homeownership by 2000. The 1997 national homeownership rate was a record 66 percent. By the end of 1998, HUD was "back in business" with the best budget (for fiscal year 1999) it had seen in a decade: $24.5 billion. Key provisions of the budget legislation were the creation of 50,000 new housing vouchers under Section 8, the raising of loan limits on home mortgages insured by FHA, an increase in funding for Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), and expanding HUD's award-winning "Continuum of Care Program" for the homeless. The budget was increased by 33 percent over the previous year for Fair Housing activities as well.

Again in the fall of 1999, Congress appropriated major increases for HUD programs in its fiscal year 2000 budget. A total of 60,000 new Section 8 vouchers were to be funded (10,000 more than had been appropriated by the fiscal year 1999 budget), and public housing funds were increased from $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion. Another increase of $45 million for the homeless ensured the uninterrupted success of the Continuum of Care Program. There also was a $7 million increase in funds for the Housing for Persons With AIDS Program (HOPWA).

HUD, with 80 field offices in the United States, had a budget of $30 billion in 2002, which increased 7 percent to $31.5 billion in 2003. Some of the many HUD programs receiving additional funding included the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. The program was designed to help community organizations and faith-based programs that help people with low incomes become homeowners. The American Dream Down Payment Fund presidential initiative was designed to give about 40,000 first-time homebuyers a year to overcome down payment and closing costs that hinder many first-time buyers. Developers of affordable, single-family housing received a tax credit. Another important HUD initiative allowed low-income families to put up to a year's worth of Section 8 rental vouchers toward a home down payment. Other initiatives supported affordable housing for the elderly.

The housing market was strong in 2001, experiencing record highs in homeownership. An estimated 70 percent of all Americans owned their own homes. However, less than half of African Americans and Hispanic families were homeowners. About 4.8 million low- to moderate-income working families had critical housing needs--meaning they paid more than half of their income for housing and/or lived in substandard conditions--up 24 percent from 3.9 million in 1999.

During the presidency of George W. Bush, Mel Martinez was the secretary of HUD. In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, he announced in 2002 that unlike many private companies the FHA would not require insurance coverage against acts of terrorism in connection with its multihousing mortgage insurance. That meant if any act of terrorism destroyed or damaged a FHA-insured multihousing property, HUD would pay the partial or full claim to the lender, which promised to reduce costs and assure continuation of new projects. Additional insurance protecting against terrorist acts could cost a multiunit project owner up to $5,000 per year. In 2001, FHA allocated $1.5 billion toward multihousing programs, increasing to $2.8 billion in 2002.

In 2004, Alphonso Jackson took over as secretary of HUD. However, he resigned in 2008, and on June 5 of that year Steve Preston was sworn in as the 14th HUD secretary. His reign was short-lived, however, and on January 26, 2009, Shaun Donovan took the helm.

Current Conditions

Government-sponsored housing programs in the United States were in a state of crisis as the 2010s began. Due to the subprime mortgage crisis, lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been taken over by the government and placed into conservatorship (what some called another word for bankruptcy), and HUD's $48 billion budget for 2011 fell short of meeting what many considered the agency's basic responsibilities. Some of the programs that were set to be cut due to a lack of funds included the public housing capital fund, HOME Investment Partnerships, Native American Housing Block Grants, the 202 Supportive Housing Program for the Elderly, and the Section 811 Supportive Housing Program for Persons with Disabilities. Nevertheless, HUD forged ahead with goals such as help provide good-quality and affordable rental homes, use housing to improve Americans' quality of life, build discrimination-free and sustainable communities, and strengthen the nation's housing market. HUD also sought to "transform the way [it] does business," according to the FY 2011 Budget Overview.

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