Seven years ago, when my husband took office, our country was plagued by record budget deficits and high unemployment. Today, we find ourselves at the beginning of a new century with record surpluses, the lowest unemployment in 30 years, and the longest economic expansion in the history of the United States.
Unfortunately, there are still hard-working Americans -- Americans who have jobs and play by the rules -- who are hard-pressed to make ends meet. For many of them, a major problem is the lack of affordable housing.
Consider for a moment these examples: Angela, a widow, lives in Richmond, Va. She has two children and a job that pays $1,200 a month. Because her two-bedroom apartment costs $625 a month, she finds herself paying slightly more than half of her monthly income for housing alone.
Delores, a former welfare recipient, lives in Atlanta, Ga. She travels over an hour each way to a new job in the suburbs, where she makes $7.50 an hour. Delores wants to move closer to her job, not only to shorten her commute, but also to give her more time with her children. But a two-bedroom apartment near her job costs $700 a month, or 54 percent of her income. Without help, Delores knows she simply can't afford to move.
Bob and Francie live in Portland, Ore., where they both work at jobs paying slightly above the minimum wage. Although they bring home about $1,900 each month, they pay $690 a month for rent -- nearly 40 percent of their income.
These families are working hard to stay off public assistance and make a good home for their children. But at the same time, they are finding themselves falling further and further behind because of the large portion of their incomes that go toward rent.
In today's booming economy, about two-thirds of new jobs are being created outside of the cities, often far from where many low-income families live. That is why my husband, as part of his effort to reform welfare, reward work, support working families and provide affordable housing for low-income families, has included $690 million in next year's budget for 120,000 new housing vouchers to help people like Angela, Delores, Bob and Francie.
Housing vouchers subsidize the rents of low-income Americans, and help them move closer to job opportunities, reduce a long commute, or secure more stable housing that will help them get or keep a job.
Here's how they work: In order to be eligible for vouchers, families must make less than 50 percent of the median income where they live, although most vouchers go to the poorest families -- those with incomes below 30 percent of the median. They are responsible for paying approximately a third of their income for rent, after which, the housing voucher subsidizes the rest -- up to a maximum amount for a modest apartment in the region.
With a voucher, Angela would pay $337 toward her rent, with her subsidy covering the remaining $288. Instead of spending more than half of her income on rent each month, Delores, who lives in a city where housing is more expensive, would now pay a more manageable one-third of her income, or $363. Bob and Francie could get approximately $150 of their rent covered by the voucher -- an amount that would allow them to meet other important expenses.
Of the 120,000 new housing vouchers proposed by the President, 32,000 will be targeted to families moving from welfare to work; 18,000 will help homeless individuals and families, who have the most difficult time securing permanent housing; and 10,000 will be used to help low-income families move to new housing constructed through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. The remaining 60,000 will be allocated to local areas to help meet the large need for affordable housing.
Housing vouchers build on my husband's record of helping hard-pressed and hard-working Americans. Two years ago, in the 1999 budget, he proposed and Congress approved 50,000 vouchers -- the first in four years -- to help current or former welfare recipients get or keep a job. Then, last November, he fought for and won 60,000 additional vouchers as part of the 2000 budget, despite the fact that, in their proposals, neither the House nor the Senate had included funding for vouchers at all.
President Kennedy once said, "The time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining." Right now, we have an unparalleled opportunity to fix the roof -- to spread our prosperity to those who have been left behind.
Surely, most people would agree that every hard-working American should be able to live in safe and affordable housing. As members of Congress begin to consider their budget priorities for next year, I hope they will work with the administration, in a bipartisan fashion, to make meaningful progress toward this very important goal.
To find out more about Hillary Rodham Clinton and read her past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.
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