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Housing shortage among poor rising in suburbs, HUD reports

Despite a robust national economy, a shortage of affordable housing for poor people _ once a problem found only in cities _ is growing in many suburbs, says a report by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that will be delivered today to Congress.

Examining housing needs from 1991 to 1995, HUD found that the number of low-income families who live in suburban areas and require housing assistance increased by 9 percent, bringing their total to 1.8-million, a growth rate slightly higher than that of families living in urban settings, which rose by 8 percent during the same period.

Over all, the report found that the nation's economic growth has done little to ease demand for affordable housing no matter where the working poor live. The data suggest that the number of low-rent apartments decreased by 900,000 during the four-year period, while the number of American families, who have incomes of less than 50 percent of the area median and who pay as much as 50 percent of their income on housing, grew by 370,000. That made the nation's total of such families with "worst case" housing needs 5.32-million, about one-seventh of all families in the country who rent.

"The days of stereotyping cities as the locus of housing problems, education problems and crime problems are gone," Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo said. "Maybe that was true of the 1950s and 1960s. It is not true of the 1990s. Urban problems have become suburbanized."

To offset the disparity between supply of affordable units and people who need them, the Clinton administration is seeking an additional $1.8-billion as part of its $25.8-billion housing budget request for the 1999 fiscal year. The additional money would be used for 103,000 rental vouchers, half of which would be given to people coming off welfare, and for a variety of housing and economic development programs.

Congress has not appropriated any new money for housing assistance since 1995, and how receptive lawmakers might be to the latest request is unclear, especially with both chambers debating a $200-billion transportation bill.