Time for leadership on housing

Time for leadership on housing

- in Fitzsimon File

Almost 500 low-income families in North Carolina would lose federal housing assistance under the budget President Bush has submitted to Congress, according to the Center for on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

The funding formula is the problem, not the amount of money. The formula uses old data and does not take into account changes in local voucher costs or the number of vouchers an agency issued in previous years.  

The Center says that means that 57 housing agencies in the state will be forced to cut assistance to 478 families. That does not include the massive waiting lists. The Greensboro News and Record reports that more than 4,000 people are currently waiting for help from the Greensboro Housing Authority alone.

Seventy percent of housing agencies across the country will take funding hits under Bush’s budget.  Since 2004, more than 100,000 families across the country have lost federal help because of funding shortfalls and an out of date formula to distribute the money.

Congress should reject Bush’s proposal and fix the proposal to at least continue to provide housing assistance for families who have been receiving it. State leaders ought to insist on that and then get to work addressing the housing crisis themselves.

The best way is to increase funding for the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund that provides low-interest loans to developers so they can build affordable housing.

Lawmakers appropriated $5 million in new funding for the Trust Fund last session, which is a start, but just barely. It is actually hard to figure out why North Carolina still has an affordable housing crisis.

Virtually everyone but the out of touch poverty-is-a-choice crowd acknowledges that we have a serious problem. As many as 600,000 households in the state face a housing crisis, paying far too much of their income on rent and utilities or living in substandard and often unsafe houses.

There is also widespread agreement among advocates from all sides and among Republicans and Democrats that the Housing Trust Fund works and is an investment that creates jobs and stimulates the economy while building affordable housing.

A $50 million investment in the Fund would provide 6,000 housing units, create 3,000 jobs, and increase state and local tax revenues by more than $30 million.  It is an obvious investment that state lawmakers should make to improve the economy of the state and the quality of life in virtually every community.

The question that is hard to answer is not if the General Assembly will dramatically increase the funding for the Housing Trust Fund this summer, it is why haven’t lawmakers done it already? 

It is clear that Washington is retreating from helping people meet a most basic need.  State officials need to step up this summer and make a public investment that is long overdue.