Rising rents here seen putting more people on street


Tens of thousands of Americans are destined to become homeless next year in cities across the country because of the current economic downturn and the shrinking supply of low-income housing, a national advocacy group in Washington has concluded.

The National Coalition for the Homeless has found an average 25 percent increase in the homeless in the cities surveyed each year since 1983. In this year's study, the group focused less on counting the homeless and more on determining the causes of homelessness.

"Americans become homeless primarily because they can't afford to pay the rent," the group said, after examining rents and incomes in Baltimore and 24 other cities.

The coalition, which is the oldest and largest advocacy group for the homeless, found that in the past two years, Baltimore's "fair market rent," as set by the U.S. Housing Department, has risen 8.1 percent to an average $547 a month for a two-bedroom unit.

The HUD-designated fair market rent fell in only three of the 25 cities surveyed -- Denver, Detroit and Pittsburgh.

The group estimates that 48 percent of renter households in Baltimore are unable to afford rent of $547 a month.

Concerning income, the coalition found that the hourly wage needed for someone to afford the fair market rent in Baltimore would be $10.52, which ranked the city about the middle of the 25 cities surveyed.

A contributor to the income-rent gap is the reduced value of public assistance that many poor families rely on to pay their rent. The coalition said that in the worst case, the maximum payment under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children category in Dallas -- $184 a month -- would cover only

35 percent of the fair market rent.

In Baltimore, the top AFDC payment for a family of three -- $396 -- makes up about 75 percent of the $547 fair market rent for a two-bedroom unit, again placing Baltimore in about the middle of the cities surveyed.

The coalition said that in 20 of the 25 cities, "a family could spend its entire grant on housing and still not be able to cover the costs of an apartment."

Many homeless people can be eligible for Supplemental Security Income payments, which provide assistance for poor people who are unable to work because of physical or mental disabilities. But the study pointed out that the maximum SSI payment in 12 of the 25 cities does not meet the fair market rent for a one-bedroom unit.

The top SSI payment in Baltimore is $386; the fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $448.

"Unless the federal government acts to reverse the decline in low-income housing stock, stagnating incomes of poor and middle class Americans, and increasing numbers of people without health insurance, homelessness will grow at unprecedented rates," the coalition predicted.

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