The poor can't find housing
The poor are being kicked out of San Francisco on a regular basis. The city has given developers the OK to build enough housing for 20,000 new residents, but the units start at $600,000 (and that's on the low end). In 2005, six million impoverished American households used most of their monthly earnings for housing or lived in substandard conditions. That's an increase of 16 percent, or 817,000 families, since 2003, according to a new report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
The national media rarely writes about the poor anymore. With mass cutbacks and layoffs, it's bound to get worse. Kudos to McClatchy for this story:
Despite the considerable squeeze and growing need for help, these 6 million families received no federal rent assistance from HUD. In fact, federal housing assistance reaches only about one in four income-eligible households.
There’s simply not enough to go around, in part because for many years the Bush administration and a compliant Congress have diverted money from housing and other domestic programs to pay for tax cuts and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“There definitely has been a diminution of federal support for low-income housing in recent years,” said Nicolas Retsinas, director of the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. “Clearly, it says there are other priorities, and this is not on the short list.”
The lack of assistance, soaring rents, slow wage growth and a shrinking inventory of affordable apartments have made it nearly impossible for millions of low-income renters to adequately house their families.
“If you’re not one of the lucky 25 percent to receive assistance, you’re very likely to have a very high rent burden or live in substandard conditions or in overcrowded conditions,” said Sunia Zaterman, executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities. “The demand for assistance goes significantly unmet.”
In fact, a family with only one full-time minimum-wage earner can’t afford a standard two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the country, the Harvard study found.
“We’re reaching crisis dimensions in many communities,” said former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, who now chairs CityView, a Santa Monica, Calif., company that helps finance and develop affordable housing.
“It’s just unreasonable to expect that suddenly we’re in an era where 50 percent of a family’s budget can be spent on housing. I don’t think anyone who looks at the way families are living in America can justify that, not even this administration.”
Rosalinda Santana, 23, a single mother of two in East Hartford, Conn., lost her hotel housekeeping job after taking two weeks off to care for her sick son because she couldn’t afford a babysitter.
While she looks for work, she’s putting the bulk of her $563 monthly unemployment insurance check toward her $750 rent. Santana applied for a slot in the “Section 8″ Housing Choice Voucher program, the nation’s primary rent assistance program for low-income families. But she faces a two- to three-year wait because program funding hasn’t kept pace with demand.
Santana’s landlord has been patient about her unpaid rent, but she and her children could end up back with relatives in New York City if she doesn’t find work soon.
“I would be in a 14-story building in the projects, in a small cluttered two-bedroom apartment with my grandmother and five other cousins,” she said. “I left New York City to give my kids a better life, and I don’t want to go back to living in a crappy situation. I feel like if there’s help out there, I should be able to get it.”
While some view housing assistance as welfare for the poor, the nation’s largest housing subsidy by far is the federal mortgage interest tax deduction. It’s projected to provide U.S. homeowners an estimated $75.6 billion in tax breaks this year. Most of that relief will go to higher-income families.
Voucher recipients, most of whom are elderly or disabled, pay 30 percent of their earnings for housing and utilities - an average of $280 per month - while the government subsidizes the balance of housing costs up to a specified amount.
But long waiting lists for the program are common nationwide. In Washington, D.C., the waiting list tops 56,000 people. Miami housing officials have reviewed applications from only 4,000 of the 40,000 people on its waiting list.
Philadelphia’s waiting list stood at 30,000 when it was closed in 2000. Nearly seven years later, some 5,500 people are still waiting.