Low and Moderate Income Housing Policies Remain Confused and Contentious

Ouro600New Orleans     It’s hard to read about tax breaks for hedge fund gazillionaires, drug companies redomiciling in other countries to lower their taxes, and declining income tax revenues in this era of super profits for corporations and super wealth for individuals and notice at the same time that as part of the budget balancing shenanigans during the government shutdown a new regulation from the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD, as it’s known, will raise rents on public housing tenants starting June 1st.

For many tenants, most of whom are lower waged workers with families, reports indicate this will amount to a 35% increase in rents.  The problem this is supposedly trying to fix is the policy suspicion that the tenants are paying below market rents to live in public housing.  Oh, no!  The new choice for tenants on June 1st will be a fixed rate of 30% of income or 80% of whatever is set as fair market value for the rent.  The painful irony is that the very poor are already paying 30% of income, so it is the working poor that are trying in many cases to get up and out of the projects that is going to feel the burn from the 80% standard, all being done at the same time as HUD projects in city after city are reducing public housing units and going with mixed developments with units ranging from market rent to the 30% standard.  It boggles the imagination to believe this will work out well.

Meanwhile another report indicates that a huge problem in city after city, project after project, is the restriction barring anyone, including family members with criminal convictions from tenancy.  Even as the Justice Department moves to decriminalize and parole thousands of prisoners with 10 years in time served for minor offenses with mandatory sentences, where are they and tens of thousands of others supposed to go, if even their families are barred from taking them back home if they happen to live in a housing project?  A sometimes controversial New Orleans developer, Pres Kabacoff, told the Wall Street Journal that he thought he was close to a reconciliation in that city, but also didn’t fail to point out that allowing convicted, though released and paroled, people in the mixed-use projects he has built would make it hard to get some of the units rented at market rates on the higher end.   Makes me doubtful what kind of solution is in the offing?

In what looked like good news, former Congressman Mel Watt now acting as the conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as head of the Federal Housing and Finance Agency, encouragingly announced a number of initiatives that might once again expand the housing market, maintain credit standards, and, can you finally believe this, even allow loan balance reductions to market prices to save families from foreclosures.  Now, we’re talking!  Oh, but wait, the predicable right wing chorus that opposes all things governmental has already denounced Watt’s program, so God knows what it will take to make it happen or how long it might last.  The good news on this score is that the White House seems to have vetted and endorsed his proposals, and there are some people who seem to understand the housing market is still in shambles in the aftermath of the Great Recession, so families wanting to buy or stay in their homes may for a change find that their interests align with builders and communities trying to get back on their feet.

Hard to ignore the fact this whole mish-mash adds up to housing policies that impact on the real life circumstances of low-and-moderate income families are still confused and contentious, which means more heartbreak than hope for the future is still in store for millions.

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