Hard Medicine For Housing Woes

June 5, 2002

Congress? Millennial Housing Commission Reports Its Recommendations

Inman News Features

A Federal government housing commission released a comprehensive report outlining its recommendations for fixing the nation?s worrisome and worsening shortage of affordable housing.

The report prepared by the bipartisan Congress-created Millennial Housing Commission stated that Federal housing support has been "tremendously successful" and has contributed to the nation?s 68 percent homeownership rate.

But the report warned that the nation doesn?t have enough housing that?s affordable and that a perverse correlation exists between poverty and lack of housing opportunities.

"The inadequacy of supply increases dramatically as one moves down the ladder of family earnings. The challenge is most acute for rental housing in high-cost areas and the most egregious problem is for the very poor," the report stated.

The report noted some troubling trends: More than 28 million households in the country spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing; working a full-time job no longer guarantees access to decent housing; and the homeownership rate for black and Hispanic households is 27 percent below the national average.

The commission?s recommendations for Congressional action included:

Enact a new tax credit that states could use to subsidize developers when the cost of building or rehabilitating housing in qualified Census tracts would exceed the appraised value of the completed home. States also could allocate the credit to lenders that would provide lower-cost mortgages to qualified home buyers.

Recognize and authorize "preservation entities" that would acquire and own housing that?s at risk of opting out of existing Federal housing programs and enact a preservation tax incentive to encourage owners to transfer the housing to such entities.

Provide capital subsidies to produce and preserve housing for very low-income households, most of which report spending more than half their income for housing costs.

Remove limits on states? ability to issue tax-exempt debt for specific housing and community development purposes.

Authorize state governors to set aside up to 15 percent of funds from the Federal block grant program to be used for original purposes (e.g., job training, childcare, transportation, housing and social services), but "in support of comprehensive neighborhood redevelopment."

Transform the public housing program to a system that gives agencies subsidies on a project basis for specific properties based on rents for the rehabilititated housing units. This approach would "enable public housing agencies to rehabilitate properties using funds borrowed in private markets," the report stated.

Restructure the Federal Housing Administration as a wholly owned government corporation with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to enable the FHA to adapt programs to the market without relying on Congress to enact legislation and to recruit staff at competitive salary levels.

"End chronic homelessness" over a 10-year period by creating additional units of permanent supportive housing and transferring renewal funding for such units to a HUD fund.

Establish a combination of work requirements and supportive services to elevate low-income households out of assisted housing and thereby open those units for other needy people. Continue to tweak assisted housing programs to reduce disincentives to work and marriage.

The commission also recommend a wide variety of changes to improve the existing Federal Sec. 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, HOME, Low Income Housing Tax Credit and Mortgage Revenue Bond programs and to tackle a laundry list of other pressing housing needs.

The commission released its 124-page report last week after completing a 17-month study that included public hearings in Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Oakland, Calif., New York and Washington, D.C.

The report doesn?t enumerate quantitative goals or set specific Federal funding levels. Instead, it "presents a new vision for the nation?s housing" and stresses the importance of housing not only for the nation?s economic health, but also for society?s overall health.

Copyright: Inman News Service

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