The Bible says the poor will always be with us. But studies indicate that when the U.S. Government passes its fiscal year 1987 budget, the poor may not have places to live.

Congress is considering three budget plans, each of which would affect programs that help low-income Americans obtain housing. The three proposals are: President Reagan’s $994 billion budget; a deficit-reduction plan mandated by a law known as Gramm-Rudman-Hollings; and a compromise budget being debated in Congress. Each of the proposals strikes a different balance between aid to the poor and defense spending.

The President’s budget proposal seeks to beef up defense spending and reduce assistance for the poor. His proposal would eliminate nearly 70 percent of federal housing assistance for the elderly and disabled. It would also dismantle several programs for low-income Americans, including emergency food and shelter and rural housing programs.

The Senate Budget Committee and the full House of Representatives has voted down Reagan’s budget plan. At press time, Congress had not finalized its own budget proposal. But Congress is expected to reduce some poverty programs to meet targets set in Gramm-Rudman.

The Gramm-Rudman law would impose equal, across-the-board cuts in most federal programs. It would lower next year’s deficit from $ 171.9 billion to $144 billion or less, and it would totally eliminate the nation’s deficit by 1991. However, a federal district court in February ruled unconstitutional the section of the law mandating automatic deficit reductions. The U.S. Supreme Court is reviewing the federal district court’s ruling.

Low-Income Housing

Housing for the poor appears to be among the most hard-hit of all federal programs. A study by the Low Income Housing Information Service indicates that “since 1980 the shortage of affordable housing has increased by over 120 percent—2.15 million units.” The report says all 50 states are experiencing a shortage of affordable rental housing for low-income tenants.

The study concludes, “The federal government is proposing to withdraw from any substantive role in providing affordable rental housing precisely at a time when the need for its involvement is greatest.”

“Ironically, as the need for low-income elderly housing has increased, the Reagan administration continues to propose major reductions in these areas,” says U.S. Rep. Don Bonker (D-Wash.), chairman of the House subcommittee on housing and consumer interests. Bonker cites the need for churches to “pick up where the government leaves off on these programs.” But he says there are too few Christian housing projects to meet the existing needs.

A Christian Response

Some Christians involved in housing ministries say the federal government provides a critical safety net that must not be removed. However, others say private housing assistance works best without government involvement.

James Tyree, director of a Habitat for Humanity housing program in the Philadelphia area, says his work will be unaffected by federal budget cuts. Based in Americus, Georgia, Habitat for Humanity rehabilitates abandoned houses and sells them at no interest to families in need of shelter.

Like Tyree, Melvin Anderson says government budget cuts will not harm his housing ministry. Anderson’s project, People’s Development, Inc., is part of John Perkins’s Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson, Mississippi. Despite some reservations, Anderson and Tyree say they are convinced “self-help” can supplant government aid.

Tyree says there will be “a lag” in assistance for the housing needs of low-income people. “But we must face the fact that the present system is not doing an adequate job with the funds allocated.” He says federal budget cuts will “take away the illusion that the federal government is caring for the ills of society.”


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