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Family income level stagnates. Empty houses rile homeless advocates

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The white brick house with mouse-gray chimneys sits on Marion Street in an inner-city neighborhood here. Unoccupied and unassuming, its quiet exterior masks a furor surrounding it: The federally owned foreclosed home is the target of a protest by local activists who want the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development to make it available to the homeless. (Profile of the homeless, Page 3.)

The dispute points up what is emerging as a major rift between the federal government and homeless advocates over thousands of vacant houses across the country.

Under a 1987 law, federal agencies are required to review their stock of underutilized properties to determine which might be transferred to nonprofit groups providing service to the homeless.

Homeless advocates say the agencies are not doing enough. This week they won a temporary court order blocking HUD from selling any foreclosed single-family homes to the general public.

Another suit is expected to be filed within the next few days against four federal agencies - HUD, the General Services Administration, the Veterans Administration, and the US Department of Health and Human Services - to try to get them to open up more housing for the homeless. ``They're clearly defying Congress,'' says Robert Hayes, counsel to the National Coalition for the Homeless.

HUD officials deny that they are being recalcitrant in aiding the homeless. They say the agency encourages its field personnel to notify shelter providers when properties are available. Some 242 properties have been leased to homeless families in the last three years. The agency has an inventory of 47,000 foreclosed homes.

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