According to a recent federal report, the number of houses and apartments that low-income families can afford to rent is shrinking. Not only do high housing costs burden many families, these costs threaten many with homelessness. The new report, based primarily on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's latest American Housing Survey, has four main findings:
- Despite a period of economic expansion, the housing stock affordable to families with incomes at or below 30 percent of the area median continues to shrink.
- Rents are rising at twice the rate of inflation.
- As the affordable housing stock shrinks, the number of renters at or below 30 percent of median income continues to grow.
- The gap between the number of struggling Americans and the number of affordable rental units available to them is large and growing.
The USCC Position
The Catholic bishops recognize that it is not their role or their expertise to describe the specific policies and programs to meet the needs of homeless people or families that cannot afford adequate housing. However, the Conference of Bishops believes that the major goals for a national housing policy should include:
Preservation: Effective policies to help preserve, maintain, and improve what low-cost, decent housing already existing;
Production: Creative, cost-effective, and flexible programs that will increase the supply of quality housing for low-income families, the elderly and other vulnerable people.
Participation: Encourage the active and sustained involvement and empowerment of the homeless, tenants, neighborhood residents, and housing consumers. We need to build on the American traditions of homeownership, self-help, and neighborhood participation.
Partnership: Ongoing support for effective and creative partnerships among nonprofit community groups, churches, private developers, government at all levels, and financial institutions to build and preserve affordable housing.
Affordability: Efforts to help families obtain decent housing at costs that do not require neglect of other basic necessities.
Opportunity: Stronger efforts to combat discrimination in housing against racial and ethic minorities, women, those with handicapping conditions, and families with children.
Churches, community groups, the private sector, and state and local government must all do more to meet our common responsibility for housing. However, there is no substitute for an involved, competent, and committed federal government providing resources, leadership, and direction for a broad and flexible attack on homelessness and poor housing.
The Bishops' Conference and Catholic Charities USA have expressed support for:
- an increase in the supply of affordable housing
- Increased funding for HUD programs in general
- An increase in the number of rental vouchers for low income families
The second is a major effort by the National Low Income Housing Coalition to develop a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund that would serve as a source of revenue for the production of new, and preservation or rehabilitation of existing housing that is affordable for low-income people. The initial goal of the trust fund would be to produce, rehabilitate, and preserve 1,500,000 units of housing by 2010. The trust fund is intended to complement, not substitute for, other major federal housing programs. Substantial increases in HOME, CDBG, and USDA Rural Housing Programs, as well as examination of ways to reform the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program to improve access to the program by a wider range of non-profit, community-based housing developers will be needed. Substantial increases in the Sec.8 voucher program will also be necessary to assure affordability for the lowest income households.
U.S. bishops Administrative Board, Homelessness and Housing: A Human Tragedy, A Moral Challenge. Washington D.C., 1988
Pontifical Commission on Justice and Peace, What Have You Done to Your Homeless Brother? The Church and the Housing Problem. Vatican City, 1987.
Catholic Charities USA, Catholic Charities USA 1999 National Survey of Services to Families and Communities. Washington, D. C., 2000.
For more information, contact: Thom Shellabarger, USCC at 202.541.3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Rivas, Catholic Charities USA 703.549.1390 x130