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The Clinton Administration released what looks like a good-news budget for affordable housing this week. And all eyes are on one catchword: vouchers.

In its $32.1 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year–that's $6 billion more than last year–the Department of Housing and Urban Development has requested 120,000 new vouchers for Section 8 housing. The program would double last year's spending to $690 million.

In New York City, where more than 200,000 families now sit on the eight-year wait list for these certificates, that could help about 6,000 households. (Under the section 8 program, the public housing authority subsidizes rents for poor tenants in privately-owned buildings).

Other vouchers include:
32,000 to help welfare recipients find stable housing near job opportunities;
18,000 focusing on homeless programs;
10,000 tagged for a new initiative to promote building apartments for very poor families, who earn less than 30 percent of the community's median.

The vouchers are designed to be combined with low-income tax credits, which typically house families making about $30,000 a year.

Clinton's budget also proposes a 100 percent increase in funding for brownfields; and $150 million to fund the 15 urban empowerment zones nationwide over the next decade.

Some housing policy analysts say President Clinton seems to have ramped up his commitment to affordable housing, since this year, for the first time, he included it on his list of budget priorities.

“Housing costs have gone up more than wages,” said Jeff Lubell, housing analyst for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an independent research group. “The president's administration is beginning to realize that housing subsidies have been a helpful tool in helping people move from welfare to work.”

If the trends of the last two years persist, Congress will halve the Clinton administration's hikes. But low-income housing advocates think they may be able to win this fight. “With the economy as it is, and the need as strong as it is, and it being an election year, it will be hard for Congress not to increase these programs,” said Linda Couch, legislative director at the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

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