Housing advocates decry Trump budget cuts
Advocates for housing programs are bashing President Trump’s proposal to slash funds and accessibility to housing assistance.
Trump proposed cutting a slew of federal programs to the bone in his fiscal 2021 budget released this month, but he took a particularly hard swing at housing aid.
In addition to calling for reduced funding at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the White House also called for changes to mandatory programs designed to provide housing assistance for low-income residents.
“We’re in the midst of an affordable housing crisis in this country,” said Jesse Van Tol, CEO of the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, an anti-poverty group. “It’s disappointing that they would propose such a budget that scales back so many supports for federal housing.”
Overall, Trump’s budget would cut $8.6 billion from housing programs, a 15 percent reduction. Deeper cuts, to the tune of 43 percent, would hit public housing funds while also eliminating programs such as the National Housing Trust Fund, Home Investment Partnerships, Community Development Block Grant and Choice Neighborhoods.
The administration’s proposal would require some low-income program participants to pay a higher percentage of their income toward rent while also calling for work requirements and other restrictions for certain housing assistance.
The White House has defended the proposed cuts as fiscally prudent steps to reining in the deficit, which has soared to nearly $1 trillion since Trump came took office.
“This is becoming almost a mandatory program in how much it’s escalating,” acting White House budget chief Russell Vought said this past week.
He argued the new requirements would “ensure that we are helping to lift able-bodied adults off of a cycle of dependency and onto a ladder of economic opportunity.”
The changes, he noted, would allow current recipients to stay on the programs.
But housing advocates say the poorest would take a serious hit if the proposals were to take effect.
“There’s little to no evidence that work requirements themselves significantly improve employment or earnings outcomes,” said Doug Rice, a senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “The kinds of cuts that are proposed in the administration’s budget, the funding level would eliminate vouchers for 160,000 households next year.”
According to Rice, housing programs are already meager and can help only about a quarter of the population in dire need of assistance due to lack of funding. Most of those recipients, he said, are seniors, people with disabilities or working families with kids.
The 11 million households that spend more than half their paychecks on housing and utilities are stuck making tough choices for food and medical needs. Over half of those households bring in less than $15,000 a year, which is equivalent to a full-time minimum wage job.
Some advocates said they found the administration’s proposal particularly surprising given the amount of criticism Trump has leveled against cities such as San Francisco and Los Angeles for their homelessness problems. Trump at one point characterized San Francisco as “worse than a slum” because of its homeless population.
“There’s been a lot of bold, public talk in the administration about addressing this problem of homelessness, and yet what we see in his budget request is really the opposite of what you need to make progress,” Rice said.
The proposals in Trump’s budget have little chance of becoming law. Congress has dismissed similar suggestions for draconian cuts in federal spending following each of his three previous budget requests and is poised to do so again as appropriators begin writing spending bills for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
“The president’s budget not only fails to reverse decades of under-investment in housing, but it also would exacerbate this underlying problem,” said Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who chairs the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. “Without working to build new affordable housing units and preserve current ones, the housing crisis will only grow.”
One of the main problems driving the crisis is that incomes have not kept pace with rising housing costs, particularly in large cities.
Joel Griffith, a research fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said the problems stem from too much government intervention, such as providing government backing to mortgages, which he says inflates housing prices.
He also argued that federal housing programs are rife with abuse.
“We believe that a lot of those funds go to favored housing funds and special interests,” he said. “These don’t resolve the underlying problem of poverty. They try to stick a Band-Aid on it.”
Griffith acknowledged that Trump’s budget proposal does not incorporate any of the large-scale federal reforms he says would address soaring housing costs and said many of the problems should be handled at the state and local level.
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