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WASHINGTON, DC-The Bush Administration’s FY 2009 budget is addressing housing and the building industry in several areas that range from the US General Services Administration’s building budget to GSE regulator support to neighborhood reinvestment–the latter of which, critics say, is insufficient for current needs.

Starting out with the GSA budget request, the administration is asking for $481.6 million in discretionary budget authority, which includes the request of a $300.2-million budget authority for the Federal Buildings Fund, $172.9 million for GSA operating appropriations, and an additional $8.5 million for the presidential transition. Of interest to the Washington, DC real estate community is the proposal to build a new home for the Department of Homeland Security, whose operations are still spread out in more than 60 different locations. GSA funding would also be provided to modernize the land port of San Ysidro, CA, one of the largest in the world.

The fiscal year 2009 budget request also includes $66.6 million–a modest increase of slightly more than half a million from the previous year–in funding for the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, which regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Accompanying this request is a call for legislation to strengthen OFH, especially given the risks that GSEs now face in the current mortgage market crisis, according James Lockhart, director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight. “The need for an empowered, unified regulator is even more critical than in the past.”

Assistance for homeowners hit by the subprime crisis was also addressed through increases in mortgage financing options for homebuyers and homeowners through reforms in Federal Housing Administration authority; $65 million for the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Housing Counseling program; and $150 million for the Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation. A request for $2 billion–a 20% increase–for the HOME Investment Partnership program was also in the budget, including $50 million for the American Dream Downpayment Initiative.

Advocates for affordable housing were disappointed by these allocations for the most part. The President cites “turbulence” in the US housing market as a core issue to be addressed in the FY09 federal budget; nonetheless, he weakens programs that assist the lowest income people find and keep affordable housing, says Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “It is a typical Bush budget, one that offers some small steps forward, while taking many steps back.”

NLIHC cited the following as examples: The budget would cut the number of housing vouchers that help very poor people pay their rent by 100,000; cut funds for housing for poor elderly people by 27% and by 32% for people with disabilities; cut the fund for repair and maintenance of public housing by 17% and eliminate funding to repair public housing that is damaged by natural disasters; cut the block grants to cities and states for housing and community development program by 18%; flat fund homeless assistance grants; and eliminate the HUD rural housing program.

NLIHC did find aspects of the budget to praise including the proposal to substantially increase funding for Section 8 project-based housing, the 20% increase to the HOME program and the $39-million request for new vouchers for poor elderly and disabled people still displaced by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and whose housing assistance from FEMA will end in March 2009.

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