Monday, May 26, 2008


MICHAEL KELLY, WASHINGTON POST - There's a housing crisis in America -- but it doesn't have anything to do with the thousands who have been forced from their over-leveraged residences or the steps Congress has taken to help those caught in the subprime debacle. This crisis doesn't generate many headlines, but it threatens Americans nationwide.

Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has tried to cripple public housing. It has devalued and defunded key programs. The president's proposed 2009 budget includes massive cuts in affordable-housing programs that will hit the working poor, people with disabilities and seniors while dismantling the crowning achievement of federal efforts to revitalize and redevelop city neighborhoods.

This year, for example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has proposed operating subsidies equal to just 81 percent of what the agency itself determined are needed. This is equivalent to saying that state and local housing authorities should shutter nearly one-fifth, or 227,000, of their units nationwide. What happens in such situations? Authorities do not evict the poor but are forced to reduce services to residents and to delay or neglect repairs and maintenance, which in turn causes public housing units to become run-down. Budgeting shortfalls feed a vicious cycle. . .

In the District, for example, we have a backlog of public housing modernization needs of $150 million. That money is needed to replace basics such as heating, fire and security systems. . .

While I understand the realities of economic downturns, I am also hearing from some of the 22,000 people on the DCHA's waiting list for housing assistance.

One woman wrote to me saying that despite having a full-time job as a dental assistant, she and her four children "are never at one place too long." Rather, they double up with friends and relatives when they can and have been moving "from house to house for the past three-and-a-half-years." The "only thing missing [in our lives] is a safe place of our own."

In communities across the country -- rural, suburban and urban -- millions of families that earn low wages, seniors and Americans with disabilities can pay 30 percent of their limited incomes for decent, safe and affordable housing. For most, public housing is a stepping stone: More than half of today's residents have lived in their subsidized apartments for less than four years. Like many Americans, the vast majority of residents in public housing move up the ladder to privately owned apartments or houses as their incomes increase and their circumstances stabilize, thus freeing up this scarce resource for others. For those who stay longer, particularly seniors and people with disabilities, public housing provides modest apartments and some of the services that allow our most vulnerable to live with dignity in their communities.

Mayors, county executives and local legislators, regardless of political party, realize that public housing is as vital to a community's infrastructure as the roads on which residents travel to get to work, the schools where children are educated and the public libraries and parks where our quality of life is enhanced. That is why national organizations including the Conference of Mayors, the League of Cities and the National Association of Counties place the preservation and expansion of public housing among their top priorities.

Michael Kelly, president of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, is executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority.


At May 27, 2008 7:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd only add that this crisis isn't just affecting families, but also singles who earn in the average wage worker category as well. Because we don't always breed does not mean we don't count--or vote.


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