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Obama Plan Would Help Preserve Public Housing

May 24, 2010 at 1:24 PM

The House Financial Services Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow on an Administration initiative to help preserve the nation’s public housing units, which are both more important and more imperiled than you may realize.

Some aspects of the Administration’s proposal (called Transforming Rental Assistance, or TRA) should be improved as it moves forward.  But contrary to a recent misleading portrayal, TRA offers the most realistic plan out there to preserve public housing.  Here’s why:

Though often unfairly stereotyped in the public eye, public housing is an immensely valuable resource, providing affordable housing to more than 2.3 million low-income Americans — many of them elderly or people with disabilities — in more than 3,500 communities.

Unfortunately, Congress has chronically underfunded public housing for decades, and the developments now face a backlog of at least $20 billion in unmet renovation needs.  Over the last 15 years, more than 165,000 units have been demolished or sold without being replaced.  And unless this backlog of needs is addressed soon, losses of public housing will almost certainly accelerate over the next decade.

TRA is designed to help preserve public housing without requiring privatization or any change in ownership, while keeping rents capped at 30 percent of a family’s income.  It would accomplish this by giving local public housing agencies a more adequate and reliable source of federal funding and by making it easier for agencies to obtain private financing.

Access to private financing is critical, since it’s highly unlikely that Congress would provide upfront the full amount agencies need for renovations.  TRA would allow agencies to mortgage the developments.  But, if a property ended up in foreclosure, it would continue to be subject to the same resident protections and other rules that applied beforehand.

Anyone who considers preserving public housing an important goal should learn the truth about TRA.

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