- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

Affordable-housing advocates are criticizing President Bush’s preliminary 2005 budget proposal, arguing that it would eliminate housing options for some of the poorest Americans.

The proposal calls for new programs to make homeownership easier for many Americans. But the nonprofit National Housing Conference and the National Low Income Housing Coalition said measures to provide low-cost rental housing are lacking, and that changes to a rental voucher program could lead to more homelessness.

The president’s budget proposal calls for $31.3 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2005, unchanged from 2004. But the plan includes several provisions, such as “no down payment” mortgages, tax credits and counseling, that were praised by housing advocates. The budget also introduced a program designed to ease the transition of former prisoners back into society.

“These are times for hard choices, yet this budget shows just how committed this administration is to the people and places who need help,” said Alphonso Jackson, the acting secretary of HUD. “The resources we are requesting signal a strong investment in neighborhoods throughout America.”

Housing advocates disagree. They argue that an additional emphasis should be placed on creating affordable options for people who are not in financial or practical positions to buy homes.

“NHC is encouraged by the proposed homeownership initiatives,” Conrad Egan, the NHC’s president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “However, we are deeply discouraged by this administration’s consistent failure to address the preservation and production of affordable rental housing.”

Housing groups specifically criticized the president’s proposal to overhaul the nation’s rental assistance voucher program, by allowing public housing authorities to set rental rates using local market data.

Housing authorities previously were bound to keep rates at less than 30 percent of a household’s income, but the Bush administration argued that this led the government to incur too much cost, and that the program was underused.

But by allowing housing authorities to charge market rates, more people could end up homeless, housing advocates said.

Housing groups also railed against a proposed $36 million reduction in assistance to the homeless, and a plan to repeal $675 million in funding to preserve older properties that could be used for housing.

The new budget also eliminates the HOPE VI program, which sought to turn dilapidated public housing units into mixed-income communities.

In other news …

• Blake Real Estate Inc. announced it was retained by the Organization of American States to serve as development manager for two projects at its main building at Constitution Avenue and 17th Street NW.

• SunTrust Banks Inc. signed a long-term lease for 57,333 square feet of office space at American Center West, located at 8330 Boone Blvd. in Tysons Corner.

The lease completes a large reconfiguration of the company’s office space in the region.

Property Lines runs Fridays. Tim Lemke can be reached at [email protected]washingtontimes.com or 202/636-4836.

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