Monday, August 02, 2004

Housing for the Poor: Moderate Republicans Rebel

Mutiny in the House

Published: NYT Editorial, August 2, 2004

After a stretch of bad news for the millions of Americans trying to find decent affordable housing, there are finally signs of progress. First, lawmakers rejected the Bush administration's attempt to shortchange Section 8, the housing subsidy program for the poor. Now, there is a procedural mutiny against Republican leaders in the House who have kept a bill that addresses the housing crisis bottled up in committee - even though it has more than 200 co-sponsors. That could conceivably force the measure to the floor for a debate and vote.

The bill as originally introduced would create a national housing trust fund by redirecting a small portion of the profits earned every year by the Federal Housing Administration's mortgage insurance fund. At the moment, those profits can be spent on anything. But given the housing shortage, it makes perfect sense to plow money earned on housing back into the same area.

Modeled on similar trust funds that have been successful at the state and local levels, the national fund would be used to build, rehabilitate and preserve 1.5 million affordable apartments. Tired of waiting for a vote, House supporters have filed a discharge petition that, if signed by a majority, could move the bill to the floor.

This is the second housing backlash in Congress in recent days. The first incident came last month, when appropriators added more money to Section 8 than the White House wanted. Given the extent of the crisis and the growing complaints from governors and local officials, this issue deserves attention in the fall campaign. The House leadership can expect more resistance as time goes on.

Are moderate Republicans rediscovering their backbones? This is exciting news. Apparently modPubs have finally found the line they won't cross (helped, no doubt by the importuning of their home-state govs) and they're drawing it on the House floor: they won't throw people on the street when a sensible alternative is available just because Tommy throws a tantrum over it. Maybe they're finally learning that you don't give in to the demands of terrorists or Majority Leaders who act like terrorists. Good for them. A line needed to be drawn and this is a good place to draw one.