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Subcommittee Approves Housing Affordability Bill; Committee Begins Consideration of Housing Affordability Measure

Subcommittee Action
On June 18, the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity gave voice vote approval to legislation (H.R. 3995) designed to increase the availability of affordable housing units and to help low-income families become first-time homebuyers.

Sponsored by Subcommittee Chair Marge Roukema (R-NJ), the bill would establish a number of initiatives, including a program to assist teachers and public service employees to qualify for reduced down payments and discounted federally owned properties to enable them to buy homes in the communities in which they serve. The legislation also would reauthorize a number of programs under the jurisdiction of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through 2004, including the Homeless Housing Programs, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, and the Native American Housing Act.

“While the home ownership rate in this country is an impressive 68 percent, minorities and low-income Americans are not sharing equally in the dream of owning a home,” said Rep. Roukema. “We have an opportunity with this bill to make an impact on the affordable housing needs in this country,” she added.

The subcommittee adopted, by voice vote, an amendment in the nature of a substitute by Rep. Roukema that made technical corrections to the bill and eliminated a controversial provision that would have allowed religious institutions to be eligible for federal housing grants.

The subcommittee also accepted, by voice vote, a manager’s amendment by Rep. Roukema that includes a provision to create a demonstration program that would provide housing assistance to grandparent-headed families.

Committee Action
The Committee on Financial Services began consideration of the Housing Affordability for America Act (H.R. 3995) on June 20.

Committee Chair Michael Oxley (R-OH) cited a recent poll conducted by Peter Hart and Robert Teeter that “found that the shortage of affordable housing ranks second only to health care costs as a concern for citizens.” He added, “While this bill does not provide the panacea for solving or addressing all of our housing problems, it begins to provide the initatives that we know are doable and make sense in this Congress.”

Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) agreed. He praised the “cooperative spirit” on the committee to increase affordable housing for low-income families and said that he endorsed most of the proposals in the bill. “What I dislike is what is not in the bill,” he explained, such as increased funding for housing programs.

The most contentious debate came during consideration of an amendment by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) that would establish a National Affordable Housing Trust Fund to assist the most economically needy families. The Fund would use the profits generated by federal housing programs, such as the Federal Housing Administration’s (FHA) Mutual Mortgage Insurance Fund. The committee approved the Sanders amendment, 33-28.

The committee also approved a number of amendments by voice vote.

Additionally, the committee rejected, 31-29, an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would have provided foreclosure counseling for low-income families.

The committee is expected to continue consideration of H.R. 3995 on June 28. At that time, the committee may consider an amendment by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) that would address the housing needs of victims of domestic violence.

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