Poor pay most for housing, report finds Baltimore-area costs often exceed 30% of income

June 10, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

The typical poor renter in the Baltimore metropolitan area spends close to 70 percent of income on rent and utilities -- twice the amount considered affordable under federal guidelines -- according to a report to be released today.

The report, written by a Washington research group, says that affordable housing and subsidized housing in Baltimore and surrounding counties are considerably more scarce than in the 1970s, while the number of poor families -- those earning less than $10,000 -- has spiraled because of unemployment.

And it says that while poor families spend most of their income for housing, they don't get much for the money.

Poor renters occupy half the area's substandard housing, including buildings with holes in the floors, poor electrical and plumbing systems, and rat infestations.

"I'm not shocked by [the report]," said Delegate Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-Baltimore. "The federal government has been a major player in providing affordable housing, and over the last decade they have abdicated that responsibility.

"Even at the state level," he said, "we are spending less on housing over the last three or four years because of our own budget problems."

The report, "A Place to Call Home: The Crisis in Housing for the Poor -- Baltimore, Maryland," was prepared by researchers at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington.

The group has conducted similar studies in 10 other cities, including Birmingham, Detroit, Milwaukee, San Francisco and Buffalo.

The study on the Baltimore metropolitan area -- including the city and Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Howard, Harford and Carroll counties -- was funded by the Morris Goldseker Foundation. It is based on 1987 data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Census Bureau.

Scott Barancik, an author of the report, said yesterday that in 1987, there were 83,700 renter households in the area with incomes under $10,000. However, there were only 44,500 low-income rental units: those costing $250 a month or less.

One of the main conclusions of the report is that four out of five poor households, including poor homeowners and renters, in the area spend more than 30 percent of their income for housing -- thus exceeding the maximum considered affordable under federal standards.

It also found that 64 percent of poor white households and 54 percent of poor black households spent at least 50 percent of their income on housing. More than 20 percent of black jTC households in the Baltimorearea were poor, while 7 percent of white households were poor.

A key finding, said Mr. Barancik, was that moderate-income households -- those with incomes of $10,000 to $30,000 -- also spent 30 percent or more of their income on housing.

Compounding these problems, the report says, is the decrease of federal housing funds over the last decade -- making subsidized housing programs unavailable to the neediest.

"It's harder to reach these families because the government has to dig deeper," Mr. Barancik says.

Welfare grants -- such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children -- have not increased to keep up with inflation. &r Meanwhile, poor households in Baltimore remain on waiting lists for up to 10 years before they get subsidized housing.

William Toohey, spokesman forthe Baltimore Housing Authority, said yesterday that the number of subsidized units has remained the same over the last decade and that the number of households on the waiting list tops 30,000.

"Many of these families are at substantial risk of homelessness," Mr. Barancik said. "One major economic jolt like a large medical bill or a layoff from a job, and they could be pushed over the edge."

However, Mr. Toohey said, the city has participated in several projects to build affordable housing. They include the Nehemiah Project, 300 town houses being built in the Sandtown-Winchester and Penn-North communities.

He also said that a state rental housing partnership would allow the city to renovate 200 units.

"While Baltimore's figures are alarming," said Mr. Barancik, "the findings seem to be on par with other cities. This is truly a national problem."

Housing report highlights

* Four out of five poor households in the Baltimore area pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing -- the maximum considered affordable under federal standards.

* Some 64 percent of poor white households and 54 percent of poor black households spend at least half their income on housing.

* Many households with incomes of $10,000 to $30,000 spend 30 percent or more on housing, while only 1 percent of those with incomes higher than $60,000 pay that much.

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