I would like to thank Chairman Sarbanes for scheduling this hearing on our nation's housing and community development needs and the FY 2003 HUD budget. I also would like to thank all of the witnesses this morning for time and input .
America is rich in resources, talent, blessings, and promise. The hard work and ingenuity of men and women across the country has led us to take on and succeed at many monumental challenges. However, one challenge we have yet to conquer is decent, safe and affordable housing. While we are the best-housed nation in the world, 15 million low income households pay too much for their housing, live in severely substandard housing, or are homeless. We have much more to do to reach our true potential as a nation. In the absence of good housing, a family's ability to do all the other things society expects of it - parenting, employment, education - is clearly impaired.
Unfortunately, the recent National Low Income Housing Coalition "Out of Reach" report shows that the gap between incomes and housing costs has grown in every state during the past year. The number of states where people need an income equivalent to at least two full-time minimum wage jobs to afford modest rental housing has increased from 27 to 33 in the last year. in my state of Rhode Island, the wage to afford the fair market rent for a two-bedroom home is $12.87 an hour. This means that a worker earning minimum wage, which Is Rhode Island is $6.15 an hour, would have to work 84 hours per week in order to afford a two bedroom unit at the state's median fair market rent. No where in the country does the minimum wage work of one person come close to paying the rent. It would seem self-evident that if one goes to work every day and collects a regular paycheck, that should be enough to secure a reasonable place to live and take care of one's family.
As Chair of the Subcommittee on Housing and Transportation, one of my priorities is to focus attention on this affordable housing crisis and the many factors that are contributing to it- including market failure and federal disinvestment in housing assistance for low income families. We need to consider creative solutions like a National Affordable Housing Trust.
We also need to focus on make our nation's housing stock safe. No child in this country should have to live in a home that is hazardous to her health because of environmental hazards like lead-based paint.
Finally, we need to do more to prevent and end homelessness in this country. As most of you are all too aware, we've seen an increase in homelessness around the nation-especially in the number of children and working families entering the homelessness system. Lack of affordable housing is only one piece in the puzzle. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act was intended to be an emergency response to the "crisis" of homelessness. Instead, it increasingly appears that it is providing a safety net not only for those who are homeless, but also for people who are not being served adequately by mainstream housing and service programs. I hope to have hearing on this issue within the next few months.
In short, now is not the time to we see another period of disinvestment by the federal government in housing. HUD was forced to sacrifice its budget during the Reagan Administration and it shouldn't be asked to do so again, especially during a recession. In fact, a number of us believe that federal spending on housing could play an important role in restoring the economy to health. By including funding in a stimulus package for programs like the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, the Public Housing Operating Fund and HOME, we would help some of the Americans most vulnerable to the economic slowdown.
It is our hope today to focus on these issues and the growing importance of a strong FY 2003 budget for HUD. Decent, safe and affordable housing is not only the American dream and the American promise, it also needs to be the American commitment.