Trump’s plan to cut public housing is a mistake for America
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The 2018 budget that President Trump proposed serves as the starting point for negotiations about programs central to our nation’s success. 

While funding increases for security and defense are understandable given our nation’s security needs, the budget unnecessarily burdens low-income families by ignoring our nation’s severe affordable housing shortage and offering no valid policy reasons for its lack of financial support for housing.

 As Assistant Secretary for Public and Indian Housing under President George W. Bush’s administration, I oversaw the nation’s more than 4,000 public housing authorities.

Public housing is an invaluable and long-ignored national asset that desperately needs Congress’s support in order to continue to change and better serve our nation’s communities. 

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Yet the Trump administration’s budget proposes cuts of $1.9 billion to the operating and capital funds of public housing agencies nationwide, which will effectively cripple these agencies and shutter thousands of units that currently serve the poor.

 

More than 2.6 million Americans call public housing home. Most of its residents have an average annual household income of $14,600, far too little to afford an apartment nearly anywhere in the country. Public housing mostly houses the elderly, disabled, and families with children.

Only one in four households eligible for housing assistance actually receives it. Eleven million American households spend more than half of their income on rent and that number continues to grow with each passing year.

They are all Americans.

Our nation’s public housing has long been desperately underfunded and we continue to fall far short of providing enough affordable housing for those who need it most. This limited housing funding actually places a greater long-term financial burden on the taxpayer because it causes inefficiencies in the delivery of other services like healthcare and food.

In other words, the proposed $6 billion budget cut to all programs at the Department of Housing and Urban Development is not just disheartening — it will make it more expensive for the taxpayer to serve our nation’s communities.

Despite our nation’s obvious housing needs, our public housing throughout our country is crumbling. Essentially, with each passing year, Congress is letting hundreds of billions of dollars of property slowly decay instead of using public housing as a foundation stone for the effective delivery and monitoring of federal services to the elderly, disabled, and poor. 

If the President’s budget were to be adopted, we would experience the single biggest budget-driven deliberate loss of an essential federally created public asset in our nation’s history.

The greatest shame is not only the loss of financial support but also the lost opportunity to conscript the private sector in an effort to improve how we serve Americans who most need supportive services, healthcare, and food.

Most of our nation’s public housing was built between the late 1930s and the 1960s and is desperately in need of capital repair — at least $26 billion worth, according to HUD’s now nearly decade-old estimates. Tens of thousands of public housing apartments are lost each year simply because there is insufficient money appropriated to maintain those units and no money to refurbish them. 

The Trump administration’s cuts make that burden remarkably worse. Each lost unit means one more family or person struggling to pay rent and closer to homelessness.

For the sake of some kind of progress, let’s assume that Congress unwisely cuts public housing operating and capital funds as the Trump administration proposes. 

If that were to occur, then Congress should, at the very least, help public housing agencies convert their public housing stock to the public private model as soon as possible and it already has created the vehicle to do just that. Congress created HUD’s Rental Assistance Demonstration program in 2012 and it has been a remarkable success.

RAD provides a powerful solution that helps address public housing’s capital needs at minimal taxpayer expense. RAD allows public housing agencies to convert their public housing units from public housing to one of two forms of Section 8 housing assistance while receiving much needed capital investment from the private sector in order to address those significant capital needs. Public housing agencies and their private sector partners leverage other sources of funding after such conversion to rehabilitate their properties so they are again livable, affordable homes serving Americans who desperately need housing.

Close to 60,000 public housing apartments have received capital investment from the private sector through public-private partnerships made possible by RAD, simultaneously preserving those units and also creating more than 70,000 jobs. RAD is a proven positive investment in helping transform our low-income communities.

An $8 million dollar annual appropriation to RAD has resulted in over $2 billion in capital investment for public housing since 2012. By any measure, RAD is an impressive success. A better investment for our nation would be to appropriate sufficient funds to finance the gap in funding that would spur the continued conversion of public housing to affordable housing capitalized by the private sector. 

Congress should appropriate those resources that help public housing agencies partner with the private sector. Once those conversions occur, public housing agencies would rely less on public housing funding from Congress and assure affordability for public housing residents for decades to come.

Congress took an important step earlier this month by expanding RAD. Up to 225,000 public housing apartments will now be able to participate in the RAD demonstration effort, which will cover all of those for which the need for RAD has already been identified.

Absent adequate public housing funding, lifting the RAD cap altogether and incentivizing the conversion of public housing to the public-private model is the most sensible policy from both the residents’ and the public housing agencies’ perspective.

Whether one is a Republican or Democrat, no one should stand in the way of common sense or progress. We should support and expand RAD because it costs the government nearly nothing and leverages billions in capital that allow dilapidated public housing to once again provide Americans with quality, affordable homes — all the while converting those units out of the long-troubled model of Congressional funding for public housing.

Public-private partnerships like RAD only work when the government fulfills its end of the deal. If there are significant cuts to public housing then Congress must maintain Section 8 funding, both in the Housing Choice Voucher and project-based Section 8 programs.

Otherwise, the financing solution we’ve already invested in might collapse, thrusting the elderly, veterans, and families into homelessness. Congress must support RAD by supporting RAD public housing conversions and the Section 8 program in order to assure the preservation of affordable homes for Americans who need them.

Orlando Cabrera served as assistant secretary for Public and Indian Housing under President George W. Bush.


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