A bill to increase legislative oversight of the Louisiana Housing Finance Agency cleared a committee this week, coming out stronger than when it went in.
House Bill 1414, filed by Speaker Jim Tucker, D-Algiers, intially required that a legislative committee simply review the agency’s annual budget. The bill now requires approval of the Joint Legislative Committee on the Budget. An unchanged provision of the initial bill adds two members to the current 15-member oversight board – doubling from one to two the members appointed by the House speaker and Senate president each.
The bill could be taken up by the full House as early as Monday. If it passes, as expected, it will still need Senate approval.
The stronger bill constitutes a more forceful posture on the Speaker of the House’s previous attempts in the past year to explore how federal housing recovery money can be used for other purposes.
Specifically, Tucker has said he’s interested in redirecting federal Community Development Block Grant money. For what’s called the Piggyback Program, created to build housing to replace what was lost in the levee disasters, $581 million in block-grant money was matched with federal tax credits available to developers. Those tax credits, in turn, can be sold by the developer – but only after developments are completed.
Because the recession has severely limited developers’ ability to get financing for new projects, the tax credits aren’t being sold, and the block-grant money is not being used.
A good deal of that money was to go toward the rebuilding of four of New Orleans’ major public housing developments, some of which now are stalled.
Tucker has asked if it’s possible to retract the unused federal money from those deals and apply it to other purposes. Last month, however, the U.S. Senate passed the American Workers, State, and Business Relief Act, which not only lets the state cash in the tax credits, and also extends the deadline for finishing the housing developments.
The federal legislation still needs to clear the House of Representatives; if it does, the housing developments likely will get the money needed to move forward.
The Louisiana Recovery Authority is equally invested in the housing program with the Housing Finance Agency, but the authority dissolves in June.
If the federal housing block-grant money isn’t used before the Recovery Authority expires, and if Tucker’s bill passes, that money may be under closer control of Tucker and the Legislature.