Housing shortage is faced by poor Study says poor pay more for their housing.

June 10, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff

Poor residents in the Baltimore metropolitan area face a severe shortage of affordable housing as their incomes fail to keep up with sharply rising housing costs and cutbacks in federal housing subsidies, according to a report released today.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington says in a study that four in five poor households in the Baltimore area pay more of their income for housing than the federal government considers affordable for them.

The study found that the average monthly rent for a modest two-bedroom apartment is $141 more than the average welfare household receives in monthly assistance.

The metropolitan area includes the city and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties.

The report is based on statistics gathered by the U.S. Census Bureau for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1987, the most recent survey available.

The findings of the report were reviewed at a press conference today in West Baltimore in a previously vacant house now being renovated by St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center.

The house and five others will be reduced in price and sold to people making about $16,000 a year, said Cathy Semans, assistant director of St. Ambrose.

"This study validates or, unfortunately, affirms, what we know about people having difficulty finding adequate, decent shelter," said Verna Jones, president of the Maryland Low-Income Housing Coalition.

Jones' organization is working with the state legislature to get more funding for low-income housing. But she said housing advocates are trying to hold the line in Congress, where the federal government is reluctant to increase new housing subsidies for the poor.

Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-City, said it is unlikely that the state government can fill the gap left by the federal government. But he said the state can try to find some money for new low-income housing. Unfortunately, he noted the governor has proposed cutting $6.5 million in housing aid from the state budget this year to help balance the budget.

The study found that while the income of a typical Baltimore area renter rose by just 2 percent between 1979 and 1987 (adjusted for inflation), housing costs increased 18 percent for the typical tenant and 30 percent for the average homeowner, the study found.

These statistics, noted the authors of the study, are compounded by the federal government's severe reduction of new housing subsidies since Ronald Reagan became president in 1981.

From 1977 to 1980, HUD provided new rental subsidies for 316,000 tenant households.

But from 1981 to 1990, HUD gave out only 82,000 new rental subsidies, a reduction of three-fourths, the study notes.

Consequently, only 38 percent of poor renters in the area received housing assistance from any government program in 1987.

As of April of this year, 35,700 households were on waiting lists for housing subsidies or public housing in Baltimore City and Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. In the city, families wait for up to 10 years.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities is an independent, non-profit research group that studies the effect of public policy on low- to moderate-income people, said Scott Barancik, a research analyst who oversaw the Baltimore study.

The study of the Baltimore metropolitan area, titled "A Place to Call Home: The Crisis in Housing for the Poor -- Baltimore, Maryland," was funded by the Morris Goldseker Foundation of Maryland.

Barancik said his group has studied housing affordability in nine other metropolitan areas and found "the problems in Baltimore are on the average with problems of other cities. The problem is so severe nationwide even though the data seem to be out of the ordinary [in Baltimore], they are the norm, which we find disturbing."

The researchers used HUD's benchmark of 30 percent of a household's income as an affordable level to pay for housing costs.

They found that in the Baltimore area, 78 percent of poor tenants and 79 percent of poor homeowners (60,700 total households) exceeded that 30 percent standard in 1987.

"Affordable housing was so scarce in the Baltimore area that 60 percent of poor households spent at least half their income on housing in 1987," stated the report.

In the last two decades, the study found, the number of low-cost homes has decreased, while the number of low-income tenants has increased.

PD In 1979 there were 65,000 low-cost rental homes in the metropoli

tan area and 76,700 poor tenants.

By 1987, the number of poor tenants had climbed to 83,700, while the number of low-cost rental homes fell to 44,500.

(The study defined low-income homes as those renting for less than $250 a month in 1987. Poor tenants are defined as those with annual incomes below $10,000 the same year.)

Recognizing the current recession, the authors of the study also stated that "there is little reason to believe the housing crisis facing households in the Baltimore metropolitan area has abated since 1987."

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