The Reagan reaction

April 23, 1991

If weapons and war-making ability were the full measure of a nation's well-being, the United States could look to the 1980s as a golden age. But the Reagan administration's military build-up is only part of the Reagan legacy. More than two years into a new administration, the country is still coming to terms with the effects of Reagan policies. That process of confronting harsh realities might aptly be termed the "Reagan reaction."

To cite one troubling statistic, the Census Bureau has just reported that the 1980s saw a drop in the percentage of Americans who own their own homes. The decrease -- from 66 percent in 1980 to 64 percent in 1989 -- marks the first reversal since the Depression of the '30s in a statistic that has come to be considered a linchpin of the American Dream.

Meanwhile, the shortage of affordable rental housing continues to blight the lives of many Americans. In Baltimore alone, about 30,000 families are waiting placement in subsidized housing, while about 6,000 buildings in the city are vacant. The overwhelming need for affordable housing dwarfs noble efforts like the Nehemiah Project, which is providing 300 homes in Baltimore for low- to moderate-income families. That project is succeeding largely because of the efforts and vision of energetic RTC voluntary organizations like Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), which was recognized for its contributions yesterday by Governor Schaefer, Mayor Schmoke and Secretary Jack Kemp of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Project Nehemiah is a splendid example of what President Bush likes to call the "thousand points of light." Yet while we celebrate these accomplishments, it is worth remembering that 300 houses is not enough to light up the darkness.

This country can use many thousands of points of light. But what it desperately needs -- and what is critically missing in housing -- is a strong guiding beacon, a beacon that only the federal government has the authority and ability to provide.

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