No Progress Found on Affordable Housing
By Hamil R. Harris
Despite a booming U.S. economy, 5.3 million households are spending more than half their income on rent or living in severely substandard housing, a figure that did not change from 1993 to 1995, according to a report released yesterday by Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew M. Cuomo.
In the Washington area, HUD figures show that 68,000 families spend more than 50 percent of their income on rent, and 45,000 people are eligible for federal housing assistance but can't get beyond long waiting lists.
"The economic tide is not lifting all boats," Cuomo said in releasing the study, which shows that millions of working people don't make enough to have safe and affordable housing and that many are shut out of federal housing because there is no room.
A similar report released two years ago by then-HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros cited the same number of households spending more than half their income on housing. Yesterday's report said there had been essentially no change since the last review.
Cuomo attributed the housing crunch to the economy and the fact that no public housing units have been built in the United States since 1995.
"We are losing affordable housing units because the economy is doing good and rent is going up. We are also not building new units," Cuomo said. "We should have seen this train coming."
Officials estimate that no more than 40 percent of household income should be spent on rent.
Joyce Scott, a 39-year-old mother of three from Baltimore, said during a news conference at HUD that she has been on a list to get federally subsidized housing for 15 years. Her rent is $356 a month, and her job pays $6 an hour. "I am just trying to make ends meet," she said.
Among the report's major findings: The number of apartments affordable to families with very low incomes dropped by 900,000 from 1993 to 1995; the number of working-poor families increased by 265,000 during the same period; and the affordable housing shortage, once just a problem for the inner cities, has shifted to the suburbs.
Federal officials said data were not available to show a trend in the housing problem in the Washington area, but they did release 1997 figures for the number of people in the area waiting to get into public housing or receive subsidized housing certificates.
In the District, 26,430 were waiting for public housing or Section 8 certificates. In Fairfax County, 7,034 were waiting; in Alexandria, 2,158; in Arlington, 4,425; and in Montgomery County, 4,557. In Prince George's County, while only 789 people were on the waiting list for federal housing assistance, new applications haven't been accepted since 1989.
The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the Washington area is $812, and 50 percent of the families have median incomes of $36,150 or less. In New York, the average rent is $862 and the median income is $25,100. In Atlanta, an average two-bedroom apartment rents for $665 a month and the median income is $27,350.
Federal officials say the 5.3 million households in the report represent 12.5 million people including nearly 4.5 million children, 1.5 million senior citizens and from 1.1 million to 1.4 million adults with disabilities.
Charging that the country is still split into "cities of haves and the cities of have-nots," Rep. John J. LaFalce (D-N.Y.), the ranking minority member of the House Banking and Financial Services Committee, urged his colleagues on Capitol Hill to approve the president's 1999 budget, which includes $1.8 billion in housing initiatives. One program would give rental housing vouchers to 103,000 families.
"Targeting new vouchers to help families move from welfare to work is an intelligent investment," Cuomo said. "It rewards men and women who are willing to work hard to climb out of poverty under their own power."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company