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Abstract

“Half a century ago, in the Housing Act of 1949, Congress declared optimistically that every American should have access to safe, decent, affordable housing.3 In an effort to realize that ambitious objective, federal lawmakers have devised and bureaucrats have implemented a wide array of housing schemes. One commentator has provided nine categories for what he deems the ‘bewildering variety of housing-related programs:’ 1. a federally regulated mortgage finance system; 2. mortgage insurance; 3. interest rate subsidies to home owners, developers, and landlords; 4. tax deductions for mortgage interest; 5. special depreciation allowances for rental housing; 6. low-rent public housing; 7. rent supplements for low-income households; 8. subsidy packages for central city redevelopment; and 9. anti-discrimination measures. To this list, we can add urban homesteading, Nehemiah Housing Opportunity Grants, housing vouchers, Housing Development Grants, and other recent variations on the affordable housing theme. While observers of federal housing initiatives may disagree strongly about the wisdom and efficacy of one or more of these varied approaches, the fact remains that the goal of decent housing for all has not yet been reached. Nor, in the light of recent revelations, investigations and admissions, can we accurately state that the federal officials responsible for overseeing and administering the means for achieving that goal have performed at acceptable levels of competence and responsibility. This article highlights two acute crises that face the nation as we seek to renew our national commitment to decent housing: the widening gap between housing costs and household income, and the recent scandal over federal housing programs that has embroiled (and threatens the future effectiveness of) the federal government's lead agency in this crucial area—the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD, H.U.D. or Department). The author's purpose is straightforward: only after appreciating the breadth of these two formidable challenges can we proceed to shape and effectively implement a federal housing agenda for the 1990s—the goal of liberals and conservatives alike in the legislative and executive branches. It makes little sense to proceed with active implementation and full funding of an ambitious National Affordable Housing Act—particularly the new Home Investment Partnership, National Homeownership Trust Fund, and Homeownership and Opportunity for People Everywhere (HOPE) initiatives—before we address and redress the shortfalls and failures of the recent past.”

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