What the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program Could Mean for the Future of Public Housing

What the Rental Assistance Demonstration Program Could Mean for the Future of Public Housing
James Hanlon
Housing Policy Debate
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Why has the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) expanded so quickly, and what are the implications for its future? James Hanlon details the history of the structure of low-income housing assistance in the United States and explains the creation of RAD, which began in 2011 and shares some key features with preceding programs, such as HOPE VI, but has important differences that may lead to RAD’s continued expansion. RAD allows public housing properties and other HUD-assisted buildings to convert to a more stable financing platform that allows owners access to more private capital to make improvements to the property. RAD leverages this combination of public and private ownership to confront the challenges stemming from aging and underfunded public housing. Hanlon explores why RAD expanded so quickly, why it likely will continue to expand, and what its expansion could mean for future federally assisted low-income housing.

Key findings

  • RAD expanded so quickly because not much is new about it. RAD’s main features stem from programs and policies that have been operating for decades that have shifted away from public housing and toward more reliance on the private and nonprofit sectors.
  • RAD is not an exact replica of HOPE VI. Instead, it integrates the program’s mixed-finance innovations with other established housing assistance programs under HUD and seeks to avoid HOPE VI’s failures and weaknesses.
  • Because RAD is not an entirely new program, it could continue expanding until it encompasses much or all of America’s public housing. If funding for the project-based rental assistance and tenant-based rental assistance programs keep pace with inflation and RAD continues to function as it should, low-income housing assistance will remain stable. But a policy environment that does not favor low-income housing assistance will deter RAD’s goals.
  • Given the likely scope of RAD's expansion, more advocacy, monitoring, oversight, and research is needed.