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California and the West

Poor Face Record Housing Shortage

Shelter: U.S. says 5.3 million low-income families, including 753,000 in California, cannot find affordable rentals. Increases in federal subsidies are sought.


WASHINGTON — Despite the booming economy, a record 5.3 million low-income American families face serious shortages of affordable rental housing, including 753,000 families in California, the government reported Tuesday.

Andrew Cuomo, secretary of housing and urban development, said that those households--with 12.5 million occupants--are eligible under federal guidelines for housing subsidized by his department but often cannot obtain it because federal funding is lacking.

Cuomo appealed to Congress to ease the problem by increasing spending for rental assistance. He said that a Housing and Urban Development study "presents clear and compelling evidence of deep and persistent housing problems for working families and other Americans with the lowest incomes."

California cities with "worst-case needs" are Los Angeles, Anaheim, Sacramento, San Bernardino, San Diego and San Francisco, the study said.

"The story of housing in the 1990s is a story of prosperity without progress," Cuomo told a news briefing. "The strong economy that has brought prosperity to millions of Americans has not reduced the affordable housing crisis for millions of others."

Describing those most in need, Cuomo said that "the growing numbers of men and women who serve the fast food we eat, who clean the offices where we work, who watch our children in day-care centers, and who perform many other low-wage jobs aren't paid enough to house their families in safe and decent conditions."

According to the study, low-income families in California most in need of subsidized housing totaled 401,000 in Los Angeles, 54,000 in Anaheim, 33,000 in Sacramento, 68,000 in San Bernardino, 74,000 in San Diego and 123,000 in San Francisco.

Those six cities were among 43 urban areas nationally where the report said housing needs are most acute.

The HUD report, titled "America's Affordable Housing Shortage," said that a sharp increase has occurred in the number of working poor families needing housing assistance, with the total jumping by 265,000--or 24%--from 1991 to 1995, the latest year for which figures are available.

The study found that the affordable housing shortage was caused in part because fewer low-rent apartments are available on the private market.

From 1993 to 1995, the number of units affordable for families with very low incomes dropped by 900,000, to 9.5 million, for a 9% decrease, the report stated.

At the same time, Congress has rejected administration requests since 1995 to increase the number of housing assistance vouchers, ending a 60-year period of improved funding for households eligible for such assistance, the report said.

The study showed that the West has the highest percentage of any region of very low-income renters with worst-case needs. It said that 42% of these renters spent more than 50% of their incomes for rent or living in substandard or overcrowded housing. This figure compared with 32% in the South, 33% in the Midwest and 39% in the Northeast.

Federal officials said two factors that contributed to this trend were the high cost of housing in Southern California and the reduced availability of federally subsidized housing, either in the form of vouchers or public housing, when compared with older urban areas in the East.

Declaring that the housing crisis has spread from inner cities to the suburbs, Cuomo called on Congress to expand tenant-based rental assistance as well as programs that create and rehabilitate more affordable housing units.


The West Woes

The West had the highest percentage of very-low-income renters with acute housing needs, according to a study of affordable housing in 43 metropolitan areas.

10 metropolitan areas most in need of housing assistance.

1. Philadelphia

2. L.A.

3. San Diego

4. Tampa

5. San Bernardino

6. Seattle

7. Anaheim

8. Miami

9. Portland

10. Phoenix

U.S. households with "worst case" needs

1991: 4,950,000

1995: 5,320,000

Source: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

researched by TRICIA FORD / Los Angeles Times

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