Thursday, January 13, 2005

U.S. housing policy needs security deposit

The Republican

Obtaining a home mortgage isn't necessarily a ticket to financial security. Just ask any homeowner who was forced to sell a house purchased in the midst of a real estate boom that later went bust.

Loss of a job, a health scare or any number of other reversals could turn a mortgage into an instrument of financial disaster - especially for low-income families.

That's why we believe a panel of housing experts is on target in its criticism of the Bush administration's emphasis on home ownership - over rental subsidies - as the central piece of its housing policy.

President Bush's proposal to help about 40,000 families each year with mortgage down payments and closing costs sounds good, but the report said the benefits of home ownership for low-income families have been overstated by White House policymakers.

The report, "The Crisis in America's Housing: Confronting Myths and Promoting a Balanced Housing Policy," issued by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the Community Learning Project, the Children's Defense Fund, the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and the Center for Community Change, said the financial risks are substantial and foreclosure is a significant threat with costs that can be long term.

Meanwhile, the administration appears poised to make further cuts in Section 8 housing vouchers, the portable subsidies that renters are allowed to use in the private market. The subsidies are just one of a number of domestic spending programs at risk in the midst of a $3.44 billion budget deficit.

In Springfield, Peter A. Gagliardi, who runs HAP Inc., a regional housing assistance program that administers 4,500 rental units in Western Massachusetts, said his agency has a waiting list of 10,000 people seeking a Section 8 voucher, a subsidy that supports 30 percent of the fair market rent.

Clearly, the nation needs a more balanced housing policy - one that includes subsidies for rental housing. Ultimately, the nation needs to develop strategies and programs to help people get an education and develop the skills that enable them to earn a decent income. Consider it a security deposit. Without a safe, affordable place to call home, the American Dream will remain elusive for many.