Lawmakers with ingrained nonchalance about deficits are shaking the money tree again on Capitol Hill. They want to spend $16 billion to house or indirectly help the poor and roll the money over into the indefinite future.
The poor deserve a roof over their heads, but the real beneficiaries of the housing legislation will be the bureaucrats running the program and the real estate developers building the housing projects.
The bill will subsidize developers and syndicators who are eager to construct more apartment complexes. Judging from experience, these projects will be located where the housing authorities and construction people decide to build -- not where the poor seek to live.
The figures alone suggest no need for new housing in some cities in the first place; surveys show that many localities have more rental vacancies than have been available for 20 years. The poor should have no trouble finding apartments; their problem is affording the rent.
President Reagan, therefore, wants to issue housing vouchers to help the poor pay for the rental units of their choice. This would cost the taxpayers only half as much as new construction -- which means the government could aid twice as many poor people for the same money. It also makes more sense to fill the vacant apartments before government funds are spent to build new ones.
The U.S. Taxpayers Commission, meanwhile, has found waste galore in government-subsidized housing. For each dollar spent in a recent four-year period, the hard-up tenants received only 34 cents in benefits. In contrast, the poor who received housing vouchers in a demonstration program received 84 cents of every dollar.
Here is how some housing money appropriated in recent years has been and will be spent:Atlantic City has more rental vacancies than the national average, yet it collected $7.1 million for new apartments, presumably for the poor. The money went into a luxury complex with two-bedroom apartments costing up to $800 a month. Minneapolis will receive $5.5 million to build a Hilton Hotel with 800 rooms. A $3.3 million grant went to South Haven, Mich., for a marina, boat yard, restaurant, 16 condominiums and 200 "dockominiums" at the mouth of the Black River. A generous $9.3 million was allocated to Wilmington, Del., for a new office tower for Chase Manhattan Bank. Another $3.4 million was earmarked for St. Petersburg, Fla., to renovate a 337-room Hilton. In Puerto Rico, San Juan was granted $2.5 million to transform an old hotel into a luxury hotel with a night club, banquet hall and conference rooms. Erie, Pa., will receive $4 million to help build a 175-room hotel with a 250-slip marina. New York City will collect $6 million for a complex to be called the Renaissance Center, which will include a Hilton Hotel.
Footnote: Jack Anderson is cochairman, with J. Peter Grace, of the U.S. Taxpayers Commission. It is backed by liberals and conservatives who want to stop unnecessary government spending. It aims to keep the facts and arguments about government waste reverberating in the public dialogue.