The housing crisis hits ever closer to home

Experts in economics are not the only ones talking about the housing crisis--the U.S. Catholic Bishops are as well. Affordable housing is one of two domestic policy priorities for the 2008 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

The bishops do not look at how the housing crisis is affecting international markets, however, as much as how it affects individuals and families. According to their housing backgrounder (see also: Subprime mortgages ) and capital hill notes (for visiting lobbyists), more than two million families likely will lose their homes to foreclosure due to subprime mortgages. This complicates an existing shortage of low-income and extremely low-income housing.

The bishops' lobbying efforts on housing, therefore, are two-fold. They support a National Housing Trust Fund in order to provide funds to build and maintain 1.5 million units of housing for the lowest income families over the next 10 years. The house has passed legislation for the fund and a similar bill has been introduced in the Senate.

To keep people in their houses, the bishops are asking Congress to protect consumers who get subprime loans and who are vulnerable to predatory lending practices, to oppose federal legislation that preempts stronger state and local anti-predatory lending laws, and to provide bankruptcy protection to homeowners.

Subprime mortgages, Tom Shellabarger of the USCCB explained, help some people with bad credit and the ability to make payments buy a home. The bishops are not concerned with bailing out speculators who are losing money on housing bought with subprime loans when they didn't need them, but those individuals--low-income and often minorities--who had to turn to subprime loans for housing and who were targeted by predatory lenders.

"There is no magic bullet," Ralph McCloud of the Catholic Campaign of Human Development told a break-out session on housing at the gathering. Beyond federal legislation on subprime loans and funds for affordable housing, Catholic groups must be involved in finding local, creative solutions on all levels--from shelters to homeownership programs.

"In terms of rental subsities, there may be other solutions that are right in front of us," said Catholic Charities Candy Hill. She suggested that Catholic Charities Chicago's Hope Housing program, which has parishes involved in helping families pay for apartments for up to a year, offered a creative model that goes beyond Section 8 housing vouchers, government funds that help low income families pay for housing.

In the end, however, more funds are needed to help tackle the housing crisis among the poor. "We can use all the creative methods in the world...but one of the things you can take to capital hill is that there's a way [for Congress] to help," Shellabarger said.—Megan Sweas

For more:
Hill notes
Pregnant Woman Support Act
Federal budget

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