Rouse warns of housing-related riots Md. developer gives Congress new report

July 29, 1992|By James Bock | James Bock,Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- Developer James W. Rouse yesterday called the lack of decent housing for the nation's poor an "outstanding and outrageous danger to the stability of our country" and warned of rioting unless the United States faces up to the problem.

Mr. Rouse, the 78-year-old developer of Columbia, Md. and chairman of the non-profit Enterprise Foundation, unveiled a report that said there is a widening gap between the demand for affordable housing and the supply of low-rent units.

"Everything now being proposed by the administration or Congress is inadequate," Mr. Rouse said at a news conference. "The Los Angeles eruption was not an aberration. Hundreds of cities in the United States are simply tinder awaiting the drop of a match."

Mr. Rouse called for sharply increased federal spending on low-income housing programs, but refused to prescribe to the deficit-plagued Congress where to find the money.

The report noted that:

* Housing conditions in the United States are significantly worse than five years ago, especially for the poor. Two million more Americans have dropped below the poverty line during that period. Some 600,000 Americans are homeless on any given night.

* Nearly 60 percent of poor renters -- more than 5 million in all -- devote at least half their incomes to housing costs. The number of poor households outnumbers the supply of low-rent units by more than 4 million.

* Federal subsidies largely benefit affluent households. For example, nearly a third of the benefits from the income tax deduction on home mortgage interest goes to households with incomes more than $100,000.

The report, "A Decent Place to Live: Revisited," is a sequel to a 1987 study produced by a blue-ribbon panel headed by Mr. Rouse, who has just returned to work after having quintuple heart bypass surgery in May. The first report became the cornerstone of the 1990 National Affordable Housing Act.

Mr. Rouse complained that while the 1990 law provided a blueprint for attacking the nation's housing problems, Congress has not appropriated enough money.

The centerpiece of the 1990 act is a program that provides federal block grants to states and cities for low-income housing. While the panel recommended $3 billion a year for the program, Congress only appropriated half that amount this year.

For fiscal 1993, the Bush administration proposed cutting the block-grant program to $700 million, and a House appropriations panel has shaved that request to $600 million. The Senate is expected to consider a bill authorizing $2.1 billion for the program.

Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., who attended yesterday's news conference, said the housing program funding "ought to be in the $2-to-$3-billion range."

Maryland's other Democratic senator, Barbara A. Mikulski, will have much to say about how much the program eventually gets. She chairs an appropriations subcommittee that handles housing, space and veterans affairs.

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