Trump's budget proposal is bad news for housing across the nation
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The White House unveiled its much anticipated budget proposal today. It shows deep cuts to important agencies, including a more than $6 billion decrease in funding to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). More than 75 percent of the agency’s budget goes to helping families pay their rent. Thus, these cuts would have a negative impact on thousands upon thousands of poor and working class households.

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Many years ago, Congress enshrined the “goal of a decent home and a suitable living environment for every American family” within its Declaration of National Housing Policy. This goal was not just justified by the basic needs of those with inadequate housing, but also because “the general welfare and security of the nation” required it. As our nation’s leading cities grapple with rapidly growing homeless populations, this additional justification takes on added weight today.

 

We would be kidding ourselves, of course, if we thought we ever came close to achieving that goal, but it remains a guiding star for housing policy. These proposed cuts would move us directly in the wrong direction. Public housing would be hit particularly hard, making the cuts a frontal attack on some of the weakest among us.

Rental assistance programs

During the current fiscal year, HUD is assisting 4.5 million families with their rent through a variety of programs. The Housing Choice Vouchers Program, one of the main vehicles for rental assistance, has enjoyed broad support on both sides of the aisle as well as from housing policy analysts because such a large proportion of the program’s funds goes directly to households to pay rent for apartments obtained from the private sector. It is an efficient subsidy that pays for a basic necessity: a safe and healthy home. President Trump’s proposal provides more than $35 billion for HUD’s rental assistance programs. Nonetheless, the Washington Post recently reported that the budget plan would cut direct rental assistance programs like the Housing Choice Vouchers Program by at least $300 million.

A new report from the National Low Income Housing Coalition shows that the private sector is not capable of providing decent homes to a large proportion of poor and working class households on its own. The report finds that the nation has a shortage of more than 7 million affordable homes for extremely low-income households. This means that two out of three extremely low-income households pay a very large proportion of their income on housing. Indeed, more than 70 percent of these households pay more than half their income on rent and utilities. Every household that loses its rental voucher is at risk of becoming homeless.

Public housing and homeownership

The Post also reported that the preliminary budget called for big cuts to public housing across the nation. Like vouchers, public housing serves those on the edge of homelessness. Public housing projects have been underinvested in for decades leading to many thousands of units being taken out of service. Making public housing units habitable is a very affordable way to increase the housing supply for low-income households. Failing to do so is also a sure way to increasing the homeless population.

The budget out today shows a cut of more than $1 billion to what the White House calls “lower priority programs,” including the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, Choice Neighborhoods, and the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. These programs provide vital housing assistance on the local, state, and national levels.

Community development grants

Finally, the Trump’s budget proposal calls for the elimination of the Community Development Block Grant Program, a longstanding program that provides funds to state and local governments to provide assistance with affordable housing and community development initiatives. This $3 billion program allows communities to jump start efforts to revitalize their communities. As with rental assistance vouchers, this program has long enjoyed bipartisan support because it builds on grassroots efforts to identify pressing local needs. Terminating this program out of the blue is like a sucker punch in the gut of countless communities across the country.

Let’s hope that common decency prevails and that the efficient subsidies that HUD provides to poor and working class families are protected in the final budget plan approved by Congress. Let’s hope this is the case not just for the sake of the affected households, but also for “the general welfare and security of the nation” as the homelessness epidemic continues to grip our urban centers.

David Reiss is a professor at Brooklyn Law School and the director of academic programs at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship. He is also the editor of REFinBlog.com, which tracks developments in the rapidly changing world of residential real estate finance.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.