New rules for public housing would ease restrictions on localities Plan would seek a mix of income levels in units, aim to encourage work

October 06, 1998|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Key lawmakers and administration officials announced a compromise yesterday on legislation that would grant more freedom to local public housing authorities and end policies critics blamed for discouraging housing residents from finding jobs.

"This bipartisan agreement marks a significant milestone in helping to meet the housing needs of this nation," said Maryland Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, the senior Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, which oversees housing policy.

After three years of wrangling, Sarbanes, Florida Sen. Connie Mack and New York Rep. Rick Lazio, the Republicans who head subcommittees on public housing, shaped a compromise package to update the federal laws that have been guiding public housing since 1937.

The bill would:

Allow people who live in public housing units to earn money for one year without any financial penalty. Previously, local housing authorities were required to raise the rent for wage-earners by 30 percent of their income. Additionally, housing agencies would be granted greater leeway to allow residents to keep more of their income past the first year.

Allow a broader economic mix of households in public housing in hopes of promoting greater social stability in those neighborhoods. Only 40 percent of public housing units would be occupied by families whose household income is 30 percent or less of the regional median income.

For the past 15 years, federal policy has set aside public housing for "the poorest of the poor," which Republicans said led to a concentration of poverty. But 75 percent of vouchers that help people pay for rent in privately owned homes or apartments must go to people whose household income is equal to or less than the median in the region, which is about $45,800 in the Baltimore area.

Require public housing recipients to attend sessions on personal responsibility if their leases are to be renewed.

Require federal officials to inform local governments about impending settlements of housing lawsuits. Baltimore area Reps. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Republican, and Benjamin L. Cardin, a Democrat, sought the provision because a 1995 desegregation settlement -- which would have paid for some poor city residents to move to Baltimore County neighborhoods -- sparked an outcry.

Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo extracted a promise from the Republicans to spend about $283 million on more vouchers to allow low-income families to relocate to privately owned housing in return for his support of the legislation.

Pub Date: 10/06/98

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