Low-income housing bill clears, near enactment

October 21, 1990|By Sam Fullwood III | Sam Fullwood III,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- An estimated 240,000 low-income and homeless families would be housed by state and local officials, and existing housing programs would be bolstered under a $57.7 billion bill expected to be signed into law in the next few weeks.

The first overhaul of housing programs in a decade, agreed to by a Senate-House conference committee last week, also attempts to shore up the troubled Federal Housing Administration while preserving low-interest programs.

The bill authorizes $27.5 billion for housing programs in fiscal year 1991 -- $3.4 billion more than the previous fiscal year -- and $29.9 billion in fiscal year 1992.

"This is landmark legislation," said Sen. Alan Cranston, D-Calif., who drafted the Senate version. "The federal government is at long last taking up its responsibility for making decent homes more affordable for all Americans, including the poor."

The initiative is "a major move to reverse the federal neglect of public housing," said Barry Zigas, head of the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

The centerpiece of the proposed agreement is the home investment plan, which would provide $3 billion over the next two years for housing programs developed by state and local officials.

Although state and local officials would have to apply for their share of the funds, they would be given greater flexibility in how to spend the money. For example, they could choose to build new units, or assist renters with monthly payments in private housing.

The home investment program is expected to provide housing for about 240,000 families.

Officials estimate some 1 million people are now on waiting lists for public housing, and another million are waiting for rental assistance.

The bill clearly falls short of providing help to everyone seeking it. However, in addition to reaching out to some families not receiving help, the bill also authorizes $9.56 billion in rental aid and other programs whose funding was due to expire.

Another key proposal of the agreement calls for the government to help residents of low-income housing to stay in their homes as landlords with expiring HUD mortgages seek to cash in their holdings.

Under existing law, landlords with HUD mortgages are allowed to sell their buildings after 20 years -- a move that would likely cause rents to rise and perhaps force out low-income tenants.

The compromise agreement would force owners seeking to sell their buildings to demonstrate to HUD that government programs did not make it practical for them to continue renting to low-income families.

"This proposal honors the contractual agreement between the federal government and low-income housing owners," said Representative Esteban E. Torres, D-Calif., a member of the House banking subcommittee and participant in the conference committee. "It calls for the preservation of the more than 300,000 units of affordable, low-income housing in America."

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