By Becker, Christine
Nation's Cities Weekly , Vol. 27, No. 25
A panel of 10 city officials and housing experts believes that a national housing policy and agenda are sorely needed to break down the barriers to affordable housing and homeownership.
That conclusion emerged from a two-hour roundtable discussion last week in Columbus, Ohio, sponsored by the National League of Cities, City of Columbus and WOSU-TV. The roundtable was one of a series of public policy discussions planned around key issues that emerged from the NLC Advisory Council's 2003 report, Divided We Fall, Inequality and the Future of America's Cities and Towns.
In March, NLC President Charles Lyons, selectman from Arlington, Mass., asked city officials to join him in a year-long effort to examine the inequalities and develop strategies for making the America dream a reality for everyone.
"There are a growing number of Americans who can't afford a decent home or are spending so much of their income on housing that they can't afford other essentials," Lyons said at the opening of the roundtable. "We need to have a mature conversation about where we're headed and talk about what local officials can do together to begin to confront this continuing problem.'"
Mayor Michael Coleman of Columbus said focusing on affordable housing is a "'focal point for the city of Columbus."
"Homeownership is the cornerstone of neighborhood revitalization," Coleman said. "Homeownership is about quality of life and about giving people access to wealth. In Columbus, we use a portion of our bed tax on hotel rooms to support our commitment to affordable housing. It is a dedicated source of funding year in and year out for affordable housing."
In his opening remarks, roundtable moderator Chris Moore of WQED-TV in Pittsburgh highlighted key findings of the recently-released report on the State of the Nation's Housing by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Moore described the report as a "concise and objective explanation of everything that's good, and some things that could be better, about our housing."
"The section on housing challenges reports on the nearly one-third of all households that are spending 30 percent of more of their incomes on housing, and the 13 percent spending 50 percent or more," Moore said. "It reports on widespread affordability problems, on the increase in crowding, on the 2 to 3 million people who are homeless at some point in a given year and on the 2 million households still living in severely inadequate units. It reminds us once again that housing challenges are most severe for those at the bottom of the income distribution."
The roundtable brought together people who build, sell and finance homes with people who play important roles in housing and city officials to explore current barriers to affordable housing and home ownership, innovations at the local level to try to meet the needs, and recommended action steps.
"Partnerships are critical to developing more affordable housing," said Councilmember Charleta Tavares of Columbus, citing the city's relationship with Fannie Mae as an important component of its efforts to provide affordable housing. "We need a continuum of housing opportunities from multi-family rental units to homeownership in single family units."
Joining the public officials at the table were representatives from Fannie Mac, the National Association of Homebuilders and the National Association of Realtors.
A recurring theme throughout the lively discussion was the need for a federal partner to support local efforts.
"The innovations that are going on at the local level are quite extraordinary," said Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. "There are not enough resources available, however, to help turn the corner without a real federal partnership."
Mayor Donald Plusquellic of Akron, Ohio, incoming president of the U.S. …