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Help with Housing National Coalition for the Homeless 1439 Rhode Island Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20005 National advocacy organization for the homeless; distributes newsletter, “Safety Network,” and other publications; assists in litigation on behalf of homeless people. National Low-Income Housing Coalition & Low-Income Housing Information Service 1012 14th Street, NW, Suite 1006 Washington, D.C. 20005 National advocacy and technical assistance organization on a wide range of issues related to low-income housing, taxation, community development; publishes regular newsletters, reports on national legislation, technical manuals, analyses of . housing trends, summaries of federal budget for housing; sponsors national antidisplacement project. , Institute for Community Economics 151 Montague City Road Greenfield, MA 01301 National technical assistance and financing for worker-owned businesses and lowincome housing; operates revolving loan fund for grassroots housing development; publishes “Community Economics” newsletter, also manuals on the development of Community Land Trusts and Community Loan Funds; provides onsite technical assistance for grassroots organizations. Center for Community Change 1000 Wisconsin Avenue, NW Washington, DC 20007 in the inner city. When capital leaves a community, both housing and residents are lost through deterioration of conditions, abandonment of units, demolitions for code violations, arson or accidental fires. You saw this on your drive through West Dallas. When capital returns to a community in the conventional way that is, when a declining area is redeveloped the results for poor people are the same: loss of housing or access to housing, and displacement. Former residents of Bryan Place and Short North Dallas know this paradox all too well, and this process has played out with local variations in every major city whether the forces of urban “renewal” were primarily public or private. One would expect an increase in homelessness during a severe and general economic downturn, as during the Depression; but the explosion in the ranks of the homeless witnessed today comes during what the Administration described as the longest peacetime economic expansion in history. One would expect increased homelessness to accompany increased incidence of poverty. While the proportion of Americans officially designated as poor has risen during this Administration, fewer people were living in officially defined poverty in 1986 than in 1960. About 40 million people 22 percent lived below the poverty level in 1960; in 1986, the number was 32 million, or about 14 percent of the population. Yet in the early 1960s, scholars were discussing the disappearance of Skid Row; by the early 1980s, Skid Row appeared to be everywhere. One would expect increased homelessness and housing problems in cities with a high occupancy rate and steeply rising housing prices, as in Manhattan and Boston; yet cities with high vacancy rates and falling housing prices, such as Houston and Dallas, also have growing street populations and intensifying housing problems. These contradictions ‘signal a housing crisis that is systemic. It might be convenient for Democrats to blame the crisis on the current Administration’s budget cuts, notably the 70 percent decrease in new budget authority for assisted housing programs and the wholesale purging of disabled Americans from benefit programs. While Reagan’s policies and priorities have obviously made conditions worse, the roots of the current crisis run deeper into the increasingly polarized American economy. When Congress passed the Housing Act of 1949, a national housing objective was established for the first time: “The realization as soon as feasible of the goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family.” The next Administration will assume power on the 40th anniversary of the postponement of this realization. “A decent home and a suitable living environment” it is really a rather modest goal. What are the elements of a national housing agenda that could make it a reality? FIRST, we need an unambiguous commitment to preserve the existing subsidized housing inventory including public housing and other HUDsubsidized units. About four million federally assisted rental units currently exist; their replacement value would be “$250 billion or more if we relied entirely on new construction,” according to MIT’s Dr. Philip Clay. He estimates that “as many as half of the assisted units are on a course to be lost to lowand moderate-income use in the next decade.” The pending demolition of 2,600 public housing units in West Dallas and of 1,000 more in Houston’s Allen Parkway Village project \(and in Bridgeport, supports Clay’s claim that public housing projects “on valuable sites, in appreciating neighborhoods and in communities where there are no strong housing advocacy groups, are at risk for substantial disinvestment.” Second, we need to revive federal housing production programs and to create such programs at the state and local level. The cutoff of the housing production pipeline is Reagan’s housing time bomb. Most assisted units today were built in the 1960s and 1970s. The Administration’s claim that it is assisting more units than its predecessors, to the extent that it’s true, is due to the units coming into service from production processes started in the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations. Even as conditions worsen, then, the flow of new affordable units has been reduced to a trickle. Third, we need a source of development capital exclusively for the purpose of producing affordable housing for the poor. This might take the form of direct capital grants; dedicated revenue sources administered through housing trust funds; lowinterest financing through community development loan funds and other socially conscious investment sources. The deregulation of the savings and loan industry, while it may have opened up new investment opportunities for thrift institutions, proved that housing investment can’t compete with more lucrative uses of capital. Texas bankers aren’t reeling because of the loans they made to produce affordable housing for low-income families. Fourth, we need to encourage and finance the efforts of nontraditional owners and developers of housing churches, neighborhood and tenant groups, community land trusts, co-ops, and other owners who will maintain affordability over time by protecting housing from speculative market pressures. Finally, we need to expand our thinking about the whole issue of housing. Is housing merely a commodity in our market economy, available only to people who can pay the market price? Or is housing a basic right in our democratic society? In the conclusion to his report, “At Risk of Loss: The Endangered Future of Low-Income Rental Housing Resources,” cited above, Dr. Clay puts it this way: “What we have yet to figure out is how to create and maintain housing opportunities in perpetuity outside the commodity system.” Do people have a right to a decent place to live in our country? The fate of millions of individuals and families hinges on our answer to this fundamental question. 0 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7