But What About Affordable Housing?

President Obama has laid out a visionary agenda to address three of our nation’s most critical problems–energy, health care and education.

Developing effective initiatives for any of them–let alone all three–will involve significant intellectual, fiscal and political investments. But if the Administration can deliver even reasonable progress toward solutions, we’ll indeed be, as the President said, “stronger than before.”

So I may seem like the proverbial skunk at the picnic when I note that the reform agenda says nothing about affordable housing. Yet it’s certainly a critical problem in communities across the nation and one that affects the health, educational achievements and job opportunities of a vast number of low-income people.

Obama’s must-do agenda is hardly the first to omit affordable housing. The issue has suffered from federal neglect for more than 10 years.

A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities details the consequences.

  • In 2007, nearly 8 million low-income households paid more than half their income for rent and basic utilities–at least 20% more than the Department of Housing and Urban Development defines as affordable.
  • About two-thirds of these households had incomes at or below the federal poverty level.
  • Between 2002 and 2007, the number of low-income households paying more than half their income for housing increased by 32%.

Federal funding to assist these households has been recurrently cut. According to CBPP, it fell by $4 billion between 2002 and 2008. This brought its share of all non-defense discretionary spending down to 20% less than in 1995.

The budget the Administration has outlined promises more support for affordable housing. Proposed FY 2010 funding for HUD is $7.4 billion more than for the current fiscal year. An unspecified portion of this would be allocated to affordable housing programs.

The increase would halt the downward trend, but funding would still be less than in FY 2006–before the recession significantly increased the need for both housing vouchers and affordable housing units.

So what I think we have here is a half-full/half-empty glass. The Administration recognizes that the federal government has to do more to help people afford “safe, decent housing,” but it’s proposing only a modest down payment on getting the job done.

One Response to But What About Affordable Housing?

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