WASHINGTON — The number of Americans who need low-income housing but cannot find it will grow to nearly 19 million by the year 2003 if present trends continue, potentially swelling the ranks of homeless people living on city streets, says a study commissioned by a federal agency and released Tuesday.
The study, by Phillip L. Clay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, predicted a 27% decrease in available low-income housing and a 44% increase in those who will need it in the next 16 years.
One official of the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp., the agency that commissioned the report, said the group was shocked by the projected number of those affected. "We were just blown away," said Dave Boehlke of Washington, a field representative.
Now, it is estimated that 3.5 million low-income people cannot find affordable housing.
Agency officials said that in addition to putting more people on the streets, the trend would cause a huge increase in "the hidden homeless"--two families living in space meant for one, and people living in garages and in other unsuitable habitats.
In reaching his projection, Clay assumed that the percentage of Americans at or below the poverty line will stay at 15% while the population grows by 2% each year. He also assumed a continued loss of low-income housing to private development projects and assumed the conversion of low-income residential buildings into high-rent properties, activities prevalent in many cities.
William A. Whiteside, the agency's executive director, said Clay's study may be conservative because it could not estimate the impact of tax revision, which trimmed back real estate tax breaks that had encouraged private investment in low-income housing.
"Ironically, as rational as tax reform is to the nation . . . it sets in motion a game of musical chairs, a game in which low-income renters are likely to be the losers," Whiteside said.
Neighborhood Reinvestment was chartered by Congress in 1978 as a nonprofit corporation to find ways to alleviate the housing crunch.
Recognizing that some earlier federal housing programs have proven prohibitively expensive, Clay and the federal group said they support creation of "mutual housing associations"--nonprofit cooperatives that would buy property and lease it to residents. Federal assistance would be used to set up the cooperatives, and the residents would pay nominal rent and maintenance expenses. One such experimental cooperative is operating in Baltimore.
The corporation, which received a $19-million appropriation for 1987, now provides grants for housing "partnerships" in local areas that are also receiving aid from local governments and foundations.
Clay's report also recommends that, to further preserve low-income property, state and local governments vigorously enforce health and safety laws to keep landlords from forcing out tenants by allowing their buildings to deteriorate. The vacancies allow landlords to convert their buildings to high-rent uses.