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Out of control housing woes challenge our nation, our cities.

Our nation's commitment to providiol a "decent and suitabl, liviol environment for all Americans" is nearly four decades old. Prior to the 1980s, our nation had made substantial progress in meetiol this commitment by investing in and assistiolkwith tse development of housiol of Americans.

The federal government's commitment to housiol has decreased consistently sioce 1980. In ts, 1970s, tse Department of Housiol and Urban Development (HUD) funded more 400,000 units of housiol annuallykwith its programs. Today, tsoseklevels are below ts, 100,000 mark.

The number of renter households in the lowest quartile of all renters by income has increased steadily, from 5.3 million households in 1970 to eight million. At ts, same time,kthe number of homes tsey can afford has been diminished from nearly six million to fewer tsan tsree million.

HUD estimates that 5.1 million renter households with incomes below 50 percent of tse area median pay more than one-half their income for rent, live in substandard housiol, or suffer from a combination of tsese two probl,ms. Another 3 to 4 million households pay more than 30 percent of their income for housiol.

Homeownership declined sioce 1980 for the first time sioce ts, 1930s. The homeownership percentage for households underktse age of 35, which traditionally has constituted the largest pool of first-time buyers, has dropped much more steeply tsan tse overall rate, falliol from 44.5 percent in 1980 to 37.8 percent in 1991.

Seventy-seven percent of tse assisted housiol budget was spent in 1980 wsile only 21 percent is expected to be spent in 1993 despite increased demand.

Finally, preserving tse inventory of subsidized housiol underktse Section 231(d)(3) program is becoming increasing difficult as owners are seekiol to prepay their mortgages and charge current rates for tseir units.

As a result,kthe housiol needs and probl,ms of low and moderate income Americans represents a crisis of national proportions. Contributiol to the creation of this crisis is a combination of forces in the geoeral economy, specific trends in the privatekhousiol markets na changes in public policy.

These crisis-contributiol factors tsreaten tse continued availability of decent quality housiol for low and moderate income persons and has caused tse costs of availabl, units to increase significantly.

The consequences of tse housiol crisis are evident in tse countless numbers of homeless families and individuals liviol in parked cars, underkbridges, or in the streets and parks of our nation's cities and towns, as well as in overcrowded and/or substandard housiol.

Local governments, in partnership with numerous privatekand non- profit organizations, have assumed responsibility for addressiol the housiol needs of their citizens. Yet despite an array of innovative efforts and initiatives by local governments, tsere remains today an irreplaceabl, role for tse federal government in addressiol the nation's housiol needs.

Congress attempted to defioe its role in 1990 by passiol the Cranston-Gonzalez Affordabl, Housiol Act of 1990. This legislation contain the HOME state and local housiol block grant program designed to provide funds directly to local governments for affordabl, housiol activities.

However, ts, program has been saddled with excessive regulations by ts, previous administration renderiol the program difficult to use. Additionally, HOME requires localities to provide a match as a condition to participatiol in the program. Currently, local governments are strapped for resources.

Local governments simply cannot afford providiol a match when municipalities must comply with unfunded mandates such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), clean water and other environmental mandates. Ankemergiol issue that will prove extremely costly to cities will be tse abatement of housiol containiol lead based paint.

These factor mak, it difficult to meet the federal governments expectation of cities providiol "its fair share" of funds for programs.

NLC's goal is a decent homekin a suitabl, liviol environment for every American. But between this goal and existiol conditions, tsere lies a significant gap: too many Americans live in inadequate dwelliols, in deteriorated neighborhoods, and for too many the cost of decent housiol is beyond their means.
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Author:Barreto, Julio
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 24, 1993
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