Clinton promotes housing aid for elderly and disabled Apartment construction, rent subsidies increased


WASHINGTON A SUN STAFF WRITER CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON -- President Clinton highlighted two new housing programs yesterday that will provide $822 million for low-income people who are elderly or disabled.

In his weekly radio address, Clinton said the money would benefit 29,400 people in 48 states and the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico. Sparsely populated Montana and North Dakota are the only two states not slated to receive any of the money.

"For millions of struggling senior citizens and people with disabilities, the peace and security of a decent home is a distant dream and the threat of homelessness an ever-present nightmare," Clinton said, discussing the programs, which are included in the new budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. "Too many of these hard-pressed Americans are warehoused in sterile nursing homes -- not because they need to be, but because they can't afford to live anywhere else."

He added: "Americans should never have to choose between putting a meal on the table or putting a roof over their heads."

Maryland nonprofit groups will receive about $11 million to establish housing for the elderly and disabled, according to HUD. Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III said he was unsure how much of the award would come to Baltimore but expected the city to receive the lion's share.

"I just don't know what it is yet," Henson said.

Earlier in the week, HUD granted $22.4 million to four Baltimore-based nonprofit groups to provide technical assistance to agencies across the country interested in building housing for low-income residents.

The administration's $25 billion housing budget for the 1999 fiscal year was one of the few appropriation requests that met with little opposition in the Republican-led Congress this year. It included $1.8 billion in new spending for vouchers, which reflected the first major increase in housing spending in four years.

The larger of the programs Clinton cited in his radio address will generate $696 million in grants to nonprofit organizations around the country to build and rehabilitate 8,200 apartment units for older people and the disabled who fall below certain income levels.

Administration officials predict that the new apartments will accommodate 12,400 people through projects managed by 166 private groups that competed for the grants. The money will cover development costs and does not have to be repaid if the housing is available for 40 years to low-income elderly residents or people with disabilities.

Additional money will be available to project owners to cover differences between the rent and operating costs.

Those receiving the assistance must be classified as "very low-income," which means that a household cannot earn more than 50 percent of the area's median income. On a national average, administration officials say that amounts to less than $8,000 a year.

The second program will provide an additional $126.8 million to be distributed among disabled people in the form of rent subsidies.

It is expected to provide affordable housing for more than 17,000 low-income people with disabilities so that their rent does not exceed 30 percent of their income.

"This is going to be a priority for the president," Andrew M. Cuomo, secretary of housing and urban development, said in an interview.

"We're all getting older, not only individually, but as a society, and the numbers are alarming," Cuomo said. "The graying of America is going to have significant impact on the nation's housing and will be one of the greatest challenges we face over the next 10 years."

The country now has about 34 million citizens 65 or older, compared with about 3 million at the turn of the 20th century. Cuomo said that the figure is expected to reach 53 million within 25 years.

HUD and the private organizations that are building new units are designing them with older and disabled people in mind, focusing on communal facilities for health and recreation, Cuomo said.

Clinton said that despite the benefits most Americans are accruing through the prosperous economy, too many elderly and disabled people "are trapped in substandard housing, where hTC broken plumbing, inadequate heat and hazardous hallways are a dangerous fact of life. And too many spend more than half of their modest incomes on housing, often sacrificing basic needs like food and medical care just to pay the rent."

Pub Date: 11/29/98

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