Good morning. I want to thank the witnesses for joining us today to help us explore and examine the housing and community development needs of the American people and the communities in which they live.
Earlier this week, the President signed the HUD appropriations bill into law. This bill, despite the very strict limits within which the Committee was forced to work, was considerably better than the Administration's original request.
It is my sincere hope that the Administration will take into account the extent to which poor and even moderate income working families are facing an affordable housing crisis in this nation as they prepare their HUD budget for FY2003. HUD's own data show that nearly 5 million very low income American families pay over half of their income in rent, or live in severely substandard housing.
A study by the National Housing Conference that looks at a broader sample, found that nearly 14 million families, including working families earning more than the median income, face such critical housing needs. In fact, while the number of worst case needs among poor families actually stabilized a bit, the number of working families carrying this severe burden has risen dramatically.
A recent Low Income Housing Coalition study shows that two full-time minimum wage earners in a family is not sufficient in 33 states to rent a modest apartment paying 30% of a family's income -- the level widely assumed to be a measure of affordability. These trends are not surprising. In the past decade, the number of units available to extremely low-income renters has dropped by 14%, a loss of almost a million units. Nationally, apartment vacancy rates have declined by 1.7 percentage points, making it more difficult for all renters to find an affordable place to live.
It is worth considering what it means to pay so much of one's income for housing, alone. It means uncertainty, insecurity, and, most likely, it means rootlessness. These families live one unexpected medical bill, one car repair, one bout of unemployment away from possible homelessness. As a result, many of them are forced to move from one apartment to another, or to move in with relatives or friends, just to keep a roof over their heads.
The children in these families will not be able to receive an adequate education. Their parents will not be able to take full advantage of job training offered to them, or other important services, until they have the kind of stability that affordable housing in a safe neighborhood can bring. In my view, housing is a first step to bringing many poor families and their children to economic self-sufficiency.
These statistics make it clear that, in developing its fiscal year 2003 budget for HUD, the Administration should seek to expand aid to low-income families. Programs that help create a ladder of housing opportunity, such as the FHA multifamily program, must also be increased. Finally, homeownership assistance programs are, for many, the final rung on the ladder. With some federal assistance, many American families can take this final step to reach the American Dream. The Administration did propose additional downpayment assistance last year; however, this would have come at the expense of other programs. It was not additional money.
We have a distinguished panel of witnesses with broad experience and expertise here this morning to discuss exactly what the housing needs in America are, and how we ought to go about meeting them.