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Statement of Senator Mike Enzi

Senate Banking Committee Markup of:

The Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act of 2007 and

the FHA Modernization Act of 2007

 

September 19, 2007

Thank you Mr. Chairman.

I appreciate that the Committee is moving to mark up this legislation today. Two of these bills are meant to address the issue of housing in our nation, and there is no more pressing or important need. As the members of this Committee have discussed during the hearing process, the housing market has taken on enormous risk over the past few years, and has finally begun to suffer the consequences. More and more citizens are realizing that they cannot afford the house they live in. Unfortunately for many, it is too late.

The FHA bill we will vote on today is an attempt to help those people by expanding the power of a federal program to take on that risk and deflect the rising costs of homeownership. I urge taking extreme caution in this approach. The Federal Housing Administration is and always was an affordable housing program meant to supplement the housing insurance market, not replace it. When a federal program like FHA expands, it also expands the risk borne by the taxpayer. Should the subprime mortgage market continue to decline and spread into the traditional mortgage market, this could be a significant problem for the FHA, and for all American citizens as taxpayers.

I am hopeful that this Committee can continue to address the problems of the subprime market in the months to come. However, the only way to solve a market crisis is with a market-based solution, and I intend to work with my colleagues in this Committee to find that solution.

I am also very pleased that the Chairman and Ranking Member have scheduled a vote today for the Community Partnership to End Homelessness Act. This Committee has been considering this bill for a long time. Every iteration of this legislation gets better and better, and this is the best version yet. It balances the needs of charities and non-profits to offer homelessness services and emergency shelters in some parts of the country with the need for permanent homeless housing in other regions. It also balances the needs of rural and urban programs, and I think there are several important distinctions between the two.

The face of rural homelessness is much different than in an urban setting. In Wyoming, we have residents who live in unsafe and condemned housing, or live doubled-up in housing meant for an individual or single family. In other cases, residents in Wyoming’s rural towns live day-to-day in motels or hotels because they cannot find anywhere else to live. In the most desperate cases, people live in campgrounds or in their cars. As you can understand, a car or a campground is not protection against the harsh Wyoming weather.

Wyoming also faces the problem of geography. Wyoming may have a small population, but our residents are spread over a great distance. This presents a difficult problem when rural services try to coordinate their efforts, share resources, and address a homeless population that is scattered throughout the state. Rural states are at a distinct disadvantage from urban centers with a consolidated organization for this reason.

This bill provides rural programs the power to help confront rural homelessness by addressing these two issues. It will grant much-needed flexibility for our rural non-profits and help them coordinate their efforts over large geographic distances by streamlining the application process. This legislation will also increase formula grant funding, where many rural states get the bulk of their federal homelessness dollars. Under this bill, federal funding can be used to specifically help the homeless populations I mentioned earlier. These groups have long been ignored by traditional homeless programs. These reforms will allow them to receive the services and housing they need to survive.

I am hopeful this legislation will help rural organizations truly address the problems of rural homelessness.

I want to thank Chairman Dodd and Ranking Member Shelby, and Senators Reed and Allard for their hard work on this bill and for working to address the concerns of rural states. I would also like to thank Senator Crapo for working with me to ensure that rural states like ours have their homelessness priorities addressed in this legislation.

Thank you Mr. Chairman.