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National Action Appeal on Housing.

from Religious and Organizational Leaders

On September 9, 1999, an open letter entitled "Religious Leaders' National Call for Action on Housing" was sent to President Bill Clinton. The letter was cosponsored by Religious Witness with Homeless People, a San Francisco-based interfaith policy advocacy coalition whose mission is to protect the civil and human rights of poor and homeless people, and Housing America, a national organization working to increase decent, affordable housing throughout the United States. More than 350 prominent religious and organizational leaders, including eighteen national umbrella groups, united in this call for increased funding for affordable housing.

The letter was prompted by Congress' attempt to designate zero new housing subsidy vouchers as part of its planned $4 billion (13 percent) cut in the affordable housing budget for fiscal year 2000. In late September 1999, Clinton vetoed the proposed budget, citing the planned cuts in affordable housing as one of the reasons for his veto. In a policy statement, Clinton said he strongly objected to the Senate's "failure to fund the critical housing needs of low-income families and [HUD] initiatives to invest in our nation's cities." In its final budget, Congress included an increase in the housing budget, allowing for 60,000 new vouchers.

But it's still not enough. And in light of the $5 billion surplus for 2000 announced by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), a second "National Call for Action on Housing" was sent this past September to Clinton; presidential candidates George W. Bush and Al Gore; Department of Housing and Urban Development congressional subcommittee chairs, Senators Christopher Bond and Wayne Allard; and Representatives Rich Lazio and James Walsh. On behalf of the American Humanist Association, publisher of the Humanist, AHA President Edd Doerr endorsed the following letter:

We, the undersigned, coalition of national religious leadership representing every major American religious stream, speak with a single, urgent voice at this absolutely critical moment in our nation's history' in an effort to influence adequate housing for the millions of men, women, and children across America who are presently living either in inadequate housing, miserable squalor, or, increasingly, in no homes at all.

We are deeply troubled that, despite unprecedented economic prosperity, solutions to our nation's affordable housing crisis are being ignored. Although President Clinton announced in April 2000 that the Federal Housing Administration had a $5 billion surplus, no action has been taken to ensure that the surplus will be used to assist the millions of working families so desperately in need of affordable housing. While the national conventions of both major parties focused on the needs of children, the plight of millions of them growing up in housing that is unsafe and/or unhealthy was ignored. At a time when the FHA surplus and the national budget surplus provide a historic opportunity to end this national housing crisis, there is an unconscionable silence by our nation's political leadership.

The housing shortage in this country has become both chronic and increasingly acute in recent years. The lack of affordable housing rips at the fabric of all our nation's communities. The tragedy of homeless families now permeates the national landscape. The worsening housing crisis has spread from urban centers and the coasts to the heartland states and to suburban and rural America. A recent joint study done by Housing America and the National Training and Information Center reveals alarming facts. There is a record gap between the supply and demand for low-cost housing units--a chasm that has widened as new housing construction has been outpaced by the loss of over 1.5 million affordable units in the past three years. The steady decline of diverse housing options over the past decade has forced 5.4 million American families to live in unsafe and unhealthy housing conditions.

In the face of this moral and social disaster facing our nation, we have before us an unprecedented opportunity to significantly address this housing crisis. The application of the $5 billion FHA surplus this year could:

* triple affordable housing construction next year

* reverse the decade-long decline in the nation's low-cost housing supply

* provide safe, permanent, and affordable housing for over 200,000 working families

* reduce affordable housing waiting lists

* assist children with housing-related health problems.

In short, the use of these funds could begin to lead this nation toward a resolution of the growing national affordable housing crisis. This action could lead us in a new direction for federal housing policy essential to solving America's longstanding housing crisis.

In our "National Call for Action on Housing" last year, we reflected the fact that all of our faith traditions insisted on the spiritual imperative that every human being has a sacred right to decent housing. Yet we live in a country where even our children's lives are endangered by the lack of safe, healthy, affordable housing. Over four million children suffer from stunted growth, anemia, asthma, and significantly poorer overall health than children who are adequately housed. Indeed, our children are living in the streets of this country and some even dying as a direct result of homelessness and inadequate housing.

What kind of people would we be if we had the opportunity to reduce this enormous suffering and did not accept that opportunity? We feel that using all available funds to end the housing crisis is a moral imperative, a sacred moment that cannot be shunned.

It is, therefore, with a deep sense of moral urgency that we call on you, our nation's political leaders, to break the silence. Release the $5 billion in surplus funds to increase the supply of affordable housing units and to preserve the existing stock for low-income families and their children.

We call on that which is most noble and honorable within you: to those ideals which first led you to public life; to the values you hold as parents, wanting to provide all that is good for your children. We call on you to act now to alleviate the desperate suffering, the missed opportunities of millions of other children who are homeless or inadequately housed with their families throughout this land.
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Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2000
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