Housing emergency

October 05, 2007

Arecent report from the Abell Foundation finds that housing for low-income families in Baltimore is being torn down by the city's housing authority a lot faster than any replacements are being put up. City housing officials challenge the report's conclusions and insist that reduced funding, particularly from the federal government, has limited their options. The federal government's disinvestment in public housing is clear - and should be reversed. But the city should do more - and do it faster - to create more livable spaces for the city's poor and working poor.

The foundation's report found a 42 percent decrease in occupied public housing units in the city in the last 15 years. It's true that during that time, there has been less attention to building units and more to providing vouchers that are supposed to offer recipients more mobility. But the buying power of the vouchers too often falls short of even the low end of the affordable-housing market, and many voucher-eligible units are uninhabitable.

Washington should restore more public housing operating and capital subsidies, which have suffered a 25 percent cut in recent years, as well as more redevelopment funds. The city is rightly using special tax incentives and a recently passed inclusionary housing law to promote more mixed-income development. But it needs to provide more of these and other financial incentives and get more redevelopment plans on the drawing boards so that more homeless can get off the streets and fewer poor people on the public housing waiting lists will be forced to double or triple up with relatives in hazardous conditions.

Housing officials insist that they want to keep public housing residents in the city, but they need to work harder and faster to make that a feasible option.

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