The Issue: The Housing Affordability Crisis
The weakening economy has not slowed the production nor sale of homes. "Home sales entered the year (2001) at near record levels, prices and rents continue to climb ," according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. While this is good news for the economy in general, "rising home prices have eroded affordability for many homebuyers. Last year, mortgage costs for the typical homebuyer rose so much faster than income that the rising cost alone absorbed most of the income gain."
The Harvard Center has identified four (4) major trends in the affordable housing market that will have an impact on communities, parishes, and dioceses. First, housing stock available to low and moderate income families is being lost at an alarming rate. Second, central cities and near suburbs continue to lose population and face continued disinvestment. Third, while homeownship by low income families is up, it is very vulnerable to economic change. Finally, the number of people with special housing needs (seniors, disabled, and/or young people) are increasing, as homelessness among families with children rises.
The Joint Center found "the incidence of housing affordability problems barely eased for low income households and started to increase among moderate income households" in the 1990's. There is no state in the union where a minimum wage worker can afford to rent a two bedroom apartment at the fair market rent.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development, facing stringent budget constraints, is focusing on becoming "an effective partner at the grassroots level, and a strong voice in the debate on the challenges that new growth and prosperity can bring."
The 2002 budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development proposes an increase in budget authority necessary to cover the expiring Section 8 contracts and seeks 34,000 new housing vouchers which subsidize rental housing for the poor. HUD would increase money for the HOME investment partnerships program for housing rehabilitation and to encourage home ownership among low- and moderate-income households.
The proposed budget would cut the public housing capital fund, but boost the funds available for operating subsidy. The budget maintains the community development grant program (CDBG), but cuts the special purpose projects earmarked in 2002. HUD also proposes cutting the rural housing program, saying it should be merged with the Agriculture Department's program even though that agency has proposed a slight decrease in rural housing services.
Finally, the budget calls for ending chronic homelessness within a decade but does not raise the funding for programs that serve the homeless.
Congress, on the other hand, established the Millennial Housing Commission in September of 2000 to "identify, analyze, and develop recommendations that highlight the importance of housing, improve the housing delivery system, and provide affordable housing for the American people, including recommending possible legislative and regulatory initiatives." The Commission is expected to issue its recommendations to Congress no later than June 2002.
The USCCB Position
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 the existing low-cost, decent housing;
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 not requiring 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.
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:
Thomas Shellabarger at United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 202 541 3189 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Lynette Engelhardt Stott at Catholic Charities USA, 703 549 1390 Ext. 130 or lstott@Catholiccharitiesusa.org