February 9, 2009

"What We Mean By Housing"

Today, Bread for the City signed on to the open letter sent to Congress by the National Low Income Housing Coalition. The letter asks for the stimulus bill to contain $35 billion of funding for affordable housing - and it's such compelling and urgent stuff that we're just going to go ahead and post the text right here:

All agree that housing is the root of the current economic crisis, but housing is much more than the private home ownership market. The economic recovery bill now under debate will do a great deal to promote growth in that market, but not nearly enough to help low income families and individuals struggling to pay the rent.

The undersigned organizations want to call attention to what we mean by housing. We mean enough homes renting at affordable prices so that our nation’s lowest income families and individuals are assured of safe and decent places to live.

We urge the House and Senate to approach conference negotiations on the economic recovery package with an eye toward balancing the long-standing and unmet need for decent, affordable homes for households with the lowest incomes who have no other options with the desire to include costly fixes for a home owner market still in flux that will benefit higher income households who have many other options.

Today, hundreds of thousands of people are on waiting lists for rental assistance, which are only getter longer as unemployment and foreclosures grow. Tonight, more than 745,000 people are homeless.

As the recession progresses, the number of people losing their jobs and subsequently falling below the poverty line is projected to increase by 10 million people over the next two to three years.

One tragic result of increasing poverty is increased homelessness. One in 10 people living below the federal poverty level will become homeless at some point over the course of a year. We project at least 800,000 new homeless people, including children and seniors, this year unless action is taken now. School districts across the country are already seeing sharp increases in the number of homeless children and youth.

No federal low income housing programs are entitlements. But, the House and Senate economic recovery bills do include housing subsidies for homebuyers of any income level that are not constrained by an appropriated amount. We urge Congress to equally address the nation’s poorest families. As the mortgage crisis continues unabated, rental homes that low income households can afford are more necessary than ever.

In any recent year, the funds provided in the economic recovery bill would represent significant resources to HUD housing programs. But today, the unemployed, low wage workers, low income seniors, and people with disabilities are experiencing severe housing affordability challenges. When we compare the attention paid to homeownership in the bill to the resources provided to programs serving the nation’s most vulnerable people, we are dismayed and disappointed that those households for whom stable homes are most threatened in today’s economy have been largely overlooked.

In one fell swoop, the amendment the Senate adopted to allow a $15,000 homeownership tax credit eclipsed more than twice over the total amount the bill allocates for low and moderate-income housing. Quite simply, the housing elements of the bill are now heavily skewed towards middle and upper income people and the lowest income people are left out.

The projected cost of the home ownership tax credit is $35 billion. The undersigned organizations encourage Congress to keep the funding for low income housing programs in the bill AND increase funding for these programs to at least $35 billion.

Together, we can create jobs, provide affordable homes and prevent a massive spike in homelessness.

Many thanks to the NLIHC for this sign-on push. Um, if it's before Monday at 5pm when you read this, you still can have your organization sign on at this page.

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