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Congresswomen hold field meeting on affordable housing in Martinsburg

July 30, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- During a congressional field hearing on affordable housing Tuesday, Martinsburg Mayor George Karos told U.S. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and Maxine Waters that the federal government should not make it harder for communities to help themselves address the issue.

In prepared remarks, Karos noted that federal funding for community development block grant programs and the region's recently launched affordable housing consortium has continued to decrease. The city receives 25 percent less in such funding than it did four years ago, Karos said.

"More fuel assistance is needed so families can remain in their homes," said Karos, who added that higher food and energy costs are compounding the challenge of finding affordable housing.

"When our veterans leave the local VA center, they need more comprehensive support services and better housing opportunities," Karos said.

Waters, D-Calif., who chairs the House Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, said she held the Martinsburg hearing at Capito's request. Capito became the subcommittee's ranking Republican last fall, according to one of Capito's aides.

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"When we have a request from a member to come to the district to hold a hearing, we try to honor it. And we try to be fair," Waters said when asked about the timing of the hearing in an election year.

"We try to make sure we're not hogging all of the resources simply because we're in power. ... It's only fair that I honor the request from the opposite side of the aisle."

"I think we got a good perspective," Capito said of testimony heard Tuesday from Karos, officials from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Service, West Virginia Housing Development Fund, Martinsburg Housing Authority and Men of Valor and Vision, a fledgling organization that is reaching out to veterans in Martinsburg.

"We sort of started at the 30,000-foot level and then brought it right down to the streets of Martinsburg," said Capito, R-W.Va., who toured some housing facilities prior to the hearing.

Martinsburg Housing Authority Executive Director Catherine Dodson told Waters and Capito that small agencies such as the one she manages are hindered when they are asked to comply with federal regulations designed for larger public housing authorities.

"It doesn't, in our opinion, make any sense to have to have equipment for each complex, when we can, within minutes, take it anywhere we need it," Dodson said of the centralized maintenance of the city's five complexes within a 10-block area.

Capito said Congress has heard concerns about the application of federal guidelines and noted the need to change regulations.

"It doesn't make sense to say you have to govern the same way," Capito said.

In her opening remarks, Water said the recently passed housing rescue package included $23.1 million in funding for West Virginia to assist with the rescue and rehabilitation of 748 abandoned and foreclosed properties. She said nearly half of the money would benefit Capito's district.

Waters was about 20 minutes late for the hearing, which attracted an overflow crowd to the Berkeley County Commission chambers. The testimony is expected to be made part of the Congressional Record.

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