Dismal housing report does not surprise Hearn City housing chief notes federal funding cutbacks.

June 11, 1991|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Evening Sun Staff wXB

After 10 years of federal cutbacks in housing programs for the poor, city Housing Commissioner Robert W. Hearn is not surprised by a study showing that the poor in the Baltimore area face a severe housing shortage.

Hearn noted yesterday that the cutbacks, begun by the Reagan administration and continued by the Bush administration, have reduced the number of new homes for the poor nationally from 130,000 in 1980 to 19,000 in 1986.

By 1984, the Reagan administration had stopped spending any money to build new public housing projects and instead allocated money to rehabilitate old ones, noted Hearn.

"For all practical purposes," said the commissioner, "that [new public housing construction] program was depleted."

Hearn was responding to a report by a Washington research group showing that four in five poor families in the Baltimore metropolitan area pay more of their income for housing than the federal government considers affordable for them.

The researchers 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 study, the first of its kind in the Baltimore area, was completed by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, using census data gathered for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1987, the most recent figures available.

The results of the report were announced in West Baltimore yesterday by several local advocates of low-income housing.

In his response to the report, Hearn noted that "without the federal partner in conjunction with local, state and the private sector, you can do only so much."

Besides the cutback in direct subsidy programs, Hearn noted that HUD also has cut other programs that help house the poor.

The city now gets $22 million a year from the Community Development Block Grant program, some of which the city has used to renovate houses for low-income residents. In 1978, he said, Baltimore received $43 million.

"It's not just a housing problem. It's a problem of the inflationary cost of housing, a problem of unemployment," said Hearn.

At yesterday's news conference, Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, D-City, an advocate of increased government housing subsidies for the poor, noted that while state government should find more housing funds, Gov. William Donald Schaefer's administration is proposing to cut $6.5 million from state housing programs to help balance the budget.

The study covered Baltimore and Anne Arundel, Howard, Baltimore, Carroll and Harford counties.

It found that in the last two decades, the number of low-cost housing units had decreased while the number of poor tenants had increased.

In 1979, there were 65,000 low-cost rental units in the metropolitan 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 units fell to 44,500.

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