- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Funding for public housing

Regarding Peter Ferrara’s article “Spending crisis curve” (Commentary, Oct. 20): While responsible spending levels in social programs are a legitimate area of inquiry, I must take issue with Mr. Ferrara’s identification of public housing as one of three main federal welfare programs responsible for what he sees as excessive federal budget outlays.

Rather than increasing, funding for public housing (supplied annually to public housing agencies as operating, capital and revitalization funding) actually has decreased over the past five years (2001 through 2005). The decrease over this period in absolute dollars is 9.7 percent. Adjusted for inflation, the decrease is a more dramatic 19.6 percent. Compare this with other funding trends in the federal budget. Local public housing agencies, which have the responsibility for successfully operating public housing, would applaud a predictable adjustment in their annual funding that approximates inflation.

The public-housing program is much smaller than Mr. Ferrara perceives it to be. In fiscal 2005, total federal funding to local housing authorities for public housing was approximately $6.1 billion. The entire outlay for public housing thus represents a minuscule fraction — about one-fifth of 1 percent — of an overall federal budget of nearly $3 trillion. Common sense would indicate that even elimination of this funding could not possibly have a material effect on the spending phenomenon Mr. Ferrara’s article decries.

Block-granting the public-housing program is not feasible without statutory public-housing regulatory reform, particularly “rent reform.” Under federal law, public housing authorities (PHAs) are not allowed to charge their public-housing tenants more rent than a fractional share of the tenants’ incomes. They also are required to provide utilities allowances. Unlike owners of market-rate real estate, PHAs cannot meet their expenses simply by raising rents or passing along utilities’ rate increases. Fixing subsidies by block-granting public-housing operating funding would require a statutory redesign of the program. Though this well may be worth exploring, until such program redesign occurs, block-granting of the public-housing operating subsidy is simply not workable.

SAUL N. RAMIREZ JR.

Executive director

National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials

Washington

And it comes with reserved parking

As a frequent Flexcar user, I can only cite benefits of the program to the city as a whole (“D.C. saves spots for car-rental parking,” Page 1, Monday). As a result of forward-thinking companies like Flexcar, fewer people need to have cars in the metro area thanks to car-sharing practices. This means fewer people vying for parking spaces, less street congestion and less pollution. Flexcar is the newest tailored form of public transport. Public transport is advantageous to the residents of a community and the environment. I have lived in two of the most parking-challenged areas of the city — Dupont and Columbia Heights. Since joining Flexcar, I have never once considered buying a car. One car-sharing spot actually removes several other cars from the neighborhood.

So, instead of criticizing the city for taking a spot away from the neighborhood, people who own cars and businesses should be praising the city for actually increasing the number of parking spots for everyone.

APRIL VARA

Washington

Progress through, not around, stem cell

The Oct. 17 article “Studies create stem cells, keeping embryo intact” (Nation) makes one fact abundantly clear: The United States has exceptional scientists who can lead the world if given the opportunity.

Faced with a restrictive federal policy, the scientists in your article have created new, though still experimental, methods for creating embryonic stem cells without embryos. However, as your article makes clear, some critics of this research do not approve of these new methods either.

While the new methods advance embryonic science, they do not actually move us fundamentally closer to finding cures for disease. Imagine, though, if our best embryonic scientists could devote their full energy, creativity and intelligence to finding cures, not policy work-arounds.

Our nation’s scientific policy should support researchers’ efforts to find cures using currently available stem cell lines even as the alternative methods are further developed. Doubtless some will always oppose this research, but it has the backing of a majority of Americans and a bipartisan majority in Congress. Our scientific community has shown itself worthy of the challenge — and focused on the ethics. We should reward our scientists with a more rational policy that lets them do what they do best.

LISA V. TERRY

Washington

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