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Affordable Housing Subject of Senate Hearing

On May 15, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation held a hearing to discuss affordable housing and working families. Subcommittee Chair Jack Reed (D-RI) opened the hearing, saying, “In many cases, working families have the worst of both worlds. They have too much income to qualify for the limited housing assistance available, but too little to benefit from the favorable tax treatment given to homeowners.”

Testifying before the subcommittee, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said, “For thousands upon thousands of low-income families with children, the disabled, and the elderly, privately owned affordable housing is simply out of reach.” Sen. Kerry spoke about legislation (S. 1248) he has authored that would establish a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to help produce 1.5 million affordable housing units over 10 years. “The goal of my legislation is to create long-term, affordable, mixed-income development areas with the greatest opportunities for low-income families,” he said, adding that 75 percent of trust fund assistance would be allocated through matching grants to the states. “We know we can no longer ignore the lack of affordable housing and the impact it is having on families and children around the country,” he said.

Jo Ann Kane of the McAuley Institute addressed the special housing concerns of women who are trying to provide for their families with limited incomes. Ms. Kane said, “We need to pay attention to the more nuanced housing needs of special populations like battered women and people who are homeless, those living with HIV/AIDS, and those leaving welfare.”

“Women and minorities make up a disproportionate share of these groups, and their plight is rooted in a history of racism, sexism, and segregation,” she said, expressing support for the enactment of a national housing trust fund, which would expand the number of affordable housing units.

Noting that “families, mostly mothers and children, are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population,” Ms. Kane urged the subcommittee to consider this community when planning for affordable housing. “About one percent of the U.S. population is likely to experience homelessness at least once during a year, according to a 2000 Urban Institute study,” she said. “Persons in families, usually mothers and children, make up one-third of those homeless on any given night.”

Ms. Kane also added that “about half of homeless women are fleeing domestic violence.” She urged Congress to provide $25 million for a transitional housing program authorized in 2000 under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). She also urged support for a bill (H.R. 3752), sponsored by Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), that would authorize $50 million for housing and services for battered women.

Robert Reid of the National Housing Conference detailed their recent report, Housing America’s Working Families: A Further Exploration. Among other things, the report found that nearly one-fifth (19 percent) of working families with chronic housing needs are female-headed families with children. Additionally, more than one-third (36 percent) of families with children who have chronic housing needs have three or more children, compared with 25 percent of families with children whose housing needs are temporary. “Taken together, the findings in these reports elevate our concerns about the housing needs of low- and moderate-income working families,” he said.

The subcommittee also heard testimony from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the National Association of Home Builders.

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