Last night, the President properly focused attention on the matter of income inequality and in doing so urged Congress to take immediate steps in this “year of action” to address the widening gap between rich and poor in America. With 2014being the 50th anniversary of the “War on Poverty” we agree that more immediate and more directed action to assist the most vulnerable and those struggling to make ends meet in our nation is not only wholly appropriate but absolutely necessary. With this in mind, however, we were disappointed that the President failed to mention the important role that affordable housing plays or should play in this larger endeavor. In 2011, for example, less than 5 percent of affordable housing units produced in this country were affordable to minimum wage workers. Also, nearly 50 percent of renters pay more than 30 percent of their income towards housing according to a study conducted by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University.
Having a safe and decent place to call home is essential to the health and wellbeing of families, seniors, returning vets and the disabled, whether they be rich or poor. The public policy goal of a decent home and suitable living environment for all has long been the fulcrum that has enabled this nation to assist those in need of a place to call home. Public Housing, Section 8 rental assistance, Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the HOME program and CDBG all were created to help provide a foundation to enable the federal government to assist low and very low income families in need of shelter who otherwise might go without. The tragedy of homeless in America today is in fact a cruel reminder and a link in the extreme to some of the same income driven issues the President raised tonight and the Administration seeks to address in the months to follow.
We commend the Administrations heightened focus on poverty in America, income inequality and the needs of America’s working poor. Housing and redevelopment authorities who are essential players on affordable housing’s front line stand ready to work with the Administration and we seek to play an important part in helping in the larger effort to assist the working poor. To do so in an otherwise difficult budget environment, however, will require a recommitment on the part of the federal government to provide the tools and resources necessary to enable local agencies to be effective and to attack this problem in a responsible manner.
We hope our nation’s leaders break the cycle of partisanship in Washington and we hope that Congress, on a bipartisan basis, working with the Administration, can reach early agreement on a plan of action to close the income gap that exists today. That plan, we believe, must recognize that the provision of safe, decent and affordable housing is an essential part of the solution. From this necessary recommitment to address the needs of those who have less, we hope will come an overwhelming reaffirmation of the need to close the nation’s affordable housing gap through the production of new affordable housing and the preservation of the nation’s irreplaceable stock of affordable housing.