Region & State

Proposed work requirement for federal housing assistance advances in Arkansas House

By TESS VRBIN | Arkansas Advocate

A legislative committee approved a proposed Arkansas law on Wednesday that would require able-bodied adults to work or volunteer part-time to receive federal housing assistance.

House Bill 1196 passed on a split vote after state lawmakers and witnesses debated the legality of the proposal and the feasibility of implementing it.

Public housing benefits are administered by local agencies that receive federal funding and must follow U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regulations. Housing authority directors told the Arkansas Advocate they do not believe the state has a place in the administration of housing assistance.

The bill’s text states that it “is intended to preserve limited resources for truly needy Arkansans.”

Rep. Kendon Underwood (R-Cave Springs), the bill’s sponsor, reiterated this to the House City, County and Local Affairs Committee. Waiting lists for housing assistance, including Section 8 housing choice vouchers, can last longer than two years, so anyone able to pay for housing with their own earned income should be able to leave the waitlist and shorten the wait time, Underwood said.

“Those who are on those waiting lists include veterans, the homeless, those with disabilities, the elderly and victims of domestic violence,” he said.

The bill applies to adults between the ages 19-64 and exempts people with disabilities and participants in drug and alcohol treatment programs.

However, federal law regarding public housing already requires adult residents of public housing to work or volunteer for eight hours per month. A housing authority can choose not to renew a lease if the tenant does not comply but cannot terminate a lease before it expires.

House Bill 1196 would conflict with this rule by requiring housing authorities to terminate lease agreements within 60 days of discovering noncompliance unless the tenant starts working again.

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