USA: Booming Economy Leaving Behind Poor FWD

Tom Boland (
Thu, 23 Jul 1998 23:00:33 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  July 21, 1998


     By Erica Noonan, Associated Press Writer

BOSTON (AP) -- He's working five, sometimes six days a week and has finally
kicked the bottle. Now all this 33-year-old homeless man needs is a place
to live that he can afford.

But with take-home pay of just $300 per week, he's unable to keep pace with
a national economic boom that has driven housing prices sky-high. For the
foreseeable future, he's staying at the Pine Street Inn shelter.

``I was taught that if you're consistent and diligent about what you do,
things will be OK,'' said the man, who did not want his name used for fear
he might lose his job as a prep cook. ``I'm doing what I'm supposed to

Although the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit an all-time high this month,
it seems the booming economy -- supposedly the rising tide that lifts all
boats -- has left some segments of society high and dry.

The homeless are hit hard, and more of the working poor are becoming
vulnerable to homelessness, said Philip Magnano of the Massachusetts
Housing and Shelter Alliance.

``There is total gridlock in the shelter system,'' Magnano said. ``People
are taking longer to get out the back door, but more people are still
coming in the front door.''

Between 1993 and 1995, the number of working households spending more than
50 percent of their income for rent increased by 265,000 to a record-high
of 5.3 million, according to federal government figures.

A raging real estate market -- fueled by gentrification and high demand --
has helped shrink the nation's affordable housing market over the past
several years.

According to a report issued in April by the Department of Housing and
Urban Development, the numbers of affordable apartments for low-income
renters dropped nationwide by nearly 1 million between 1993 to 1995.

``The economy is booming for select people, but for the needy the gap gets
wider,'' said Tom Lyons, executive director of the New England Shelter for
Homeless Veterans, who estimated the average stay at his shelter has
stretched from eight months to more than 14 months over the past two years.

``We are constantly encouraging men and women to rebuild their lives with
work, but at the end of the road we aren't finding housing for them,''
Lyons said.

Consider these realities:

In San Francisco, one-bedroom apartments rent for an average of $760 per
month, while two-bedrooms go for nearly $1,000, the National Low Income
Housing Coalition found.

One-bedrooms cost an average of $700 a month in Boston, $626 in Trenton,
N.J., $591 in Miami, and $676 in Washington, D.C.

A worker earning the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour would have to
work an estimated 88 hours per week to afford a one-bedroom in Miami, while
in Westchester County, N.Y., a minimum-wage earner would have to work 150
hours per week to afford an average-priced two-bedroom apartment, according
to federal statistics.

Affordable housing is still available in communities such as Joplin, Mo.,
and Flint, Mich. -- where one-bedroom apartments cost a more-reasonable
$280 and $379, respectively -- but fewer jobs are available in those areas,
said Nan Roman, vice president of the Washington-based National Alliance to
End Homelessness.

Out-of-reach private housing and persistent cuts in federal housing
programs have even forced some shelters to build permanent housing where
working residents pay a portion of their income for rent.

``It's like a runner being at the starting line and all ready to go,''
Lyons said. ``But they can't  even get started because there's no place for
them to go.''


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