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The White House budget harms affordable housing in America

The White House budget harms affordable housing in America
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump renews attacks against Tester over VA nominee on eve of Montana rally Trump submits 2017 federal income tax returns Corker: Trump administration 'clamped down' on Saudi intel, canceled briefing MORE has released the administration’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal, which looks more like a plan to increase homelessness. How else can you reasonably describe a budget proposal that takes an axe to federal programs that provide critical funding for affordable housing and rental subsidies for the lowest-income and most at-risk Americans?

The president’s budget strips $8.8 billion from the budget of the already tragically underfunded U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a federal agency whose programs and dollars serve the housing needs of millions of low-income Americans. This represents a staggering 18.3 percent decrease compared to the already denuded fiscal 2017 budget.

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Presumably, robbing HUD will help pay for a tax reform plan that enriches big corporations and the wealthiest and most privileged citizens. While HUD has taken severe funding cuts for decades, we may be looking at the most deliberately hostile atmosphere we’ve ever seen toward affordable and public housing.

The administration is seeking to completely eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program, Home Investment Partnerships program, and the Public Housing Capital Fund. Public Housing Operating Funding and rental assistance programs like Section 8 are similarly in line for deep cuts.

By eliminating the fund for public housing capital, the president is abdicating the federal government’s responsibility to ensure that local public housing authorities have the money they need to repair, maintain, and upgrade the buildings and homes they oversee. He’s putting that massive balance on the doorstep of state and local government, ringing the doorbell, and running away.

In New York City alone, the capital needs to repair and upgrade its public housing is estimated at roughly $25 billion. As an entity, the New York City Housing Authority has just over 2,460 buildings with 176,000 units that serves nearly 600,000 tenants. If it was a city, it would be the 32nd largest by population in the country. What happens to a city whose housing stock is made up exclusively of severely financially and physically distressed buildings when it fails? Where do its more than half a million low-income American citizens go?

The proposed cuts to rental subsidies like those in Section 8 would almost certainly put people out on the streets. Funding from this program provides vouchers that help extremely low-income and formerly homeless families pay for rent. Without these vouchers, they wouldn’t be able to afford to pay rent.

To put it in perspective, if enacted, the Trump budget would likely eliminate more than 20,800 vouchers that are helping people pay rent right now across New York state. Not only would 20,800 people immediately lose the ability to pay rent, their landlords would lose the income provided by Section 8, as well.

Additionally, this plan raises rents for HUD-assisted tenants from 30 percent of adjusted income to 35 percent of gross income. That annual increase of roughly $890 per year in rent will force approximately 511,200 hardworking New York families to make the choice between paying rent versus paying for other necessities like health care, education, nutritious food and more. Or it may simply make paying rent impossible.

The fact that a budget defunding affordable housing production was even rolled out during the president’s “Infrastructure Week” is baffling. Nothing is more important to our nation’s infrastructure than our housing stock. Yet, with the elimination of the  Community Development Block Grant and Home Investment Partnerships programs, cities and towns are being robbed of funding that allows them to address their specific development, infrastructure and affordable housing needs.

Our president, whose family fortune was built on residential real estate development, must surely understand the incredible economic benefit to our cities of building and rehabbing residential real estate. Across New York, affordable housing production creates and preserves roughly 25,600 units, helps generate 65,800 jobs and accounts for about $10.9 billion in local income annually. If that isn’t something to tout during Infrastructure Week, what is?

The 2019 budget is titled, “Efficient, Effective, Accountable.” If allowed to pass with these destructive changes, the budget will be efficient and effective, not at bringing back jobs or stabilizing the economy, but at putting people on the streets. By destabilizing public housing, ensuring low-income families can’t pay their rent, and stymying affordable housing and economic development in communities across the country, we are mortgaging America’s future. When the damage is done, we’ll all be accountable for picking up the pieces of failed infrastructure and millions of shattered lives.

Rafael E. Cestero is president of the Community Preservation Corporation.