Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
Deep cuts to HUD could exacerbate the nation’s already severe affordable housing crisis.
Think of a school bus driver, truly the most thankless job of all. Brutally underpaid. Subject to world-historic levels of daily harassment. On the best of days, bus drivers still spend their workday lurching through traffic.
Plus, for the most part, school bus drivers live paycheck to paycheck. In none of the 210 metro areas in the U.S. can school bus drivers afford to live where they work. They are subject to difficult decisions, according to the National Housing Conference—think soul-crushing commutes or substandard housing—or cruel tradeoffs, such as forgoing medical care in order to pay the rent.
School bus drivers are just one class of underpaid, underprivileged workers who stand to be much worse off under President Donald Trump. On Thursday, the Trump administration released details of its planned budget, and as expected, it features deep cuts to a wide array of social safety net spending. Housing assistance took a particularly dramatic blow. Trump’s proposal calls for gutting whole categories of rental aid for some of the nation’s must vulnerable families.
The administration’s budget includes $6.2 billion in cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Relative to funding levels necessary for HUD in fiscal year 2017, the cuts amount to a 15 percent reduction—the largest cuts in housing aid since the Reagan administration.
Trump’s budget would eliminate several core categories of housing assistance at HUD. Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, and several other aid programs at HUD would be nixed. As a result, more than 200,000 families, seniors, and people with disabilities who benefit from housing assistance will be at immediate risk of homelessness, according to Diane Yentel, president and CEO of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. “This budget proposal must not and will not stand,” she says.
The budget cuts would affect a broad array of American workers and families. Trump’s budget would eliminate the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which former HUD Secretary Julián Castro described as “vital” to reducing homelessness among veterans. Under the Obama administration, veteran homelessness plunged by 47 percent, thanks in part to work by the Interagency Council.
The Trump budget also includes big cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, specifically to portions of the program that provide rental assistance to rural households. Rural rental assistance saw steep cuts during the Obama years. Trump pledges to make those cuts in housing aid permanent, essentially targeting his most ardent supporters.
Federal affordable housing dollars may be squeezed even further in the short term, in order to meet the president’s goal to boost defense spending. Cuts to housing aid will compound costs in other corners of the economy. For thousands of vulnerable families, the other side of housing aid is homelessness. The nation, already in the grips of an affordable-housing crisis, could see a rise in homelessness unmatched since the Reagan administration.
Affordable housing advocates have already fired off the first round of promises to fight the proposed budget, stressing its potential impact on other federal expenses. “Living in an affordable, healthy home directly affects the ability of children to succeed in school and the health of older adults and people with disabilities,” said Chris Estes, president and CEO of the National Housing Conference, in a memo. “Access to quality stable homes is a key component of reducing health care costs, especially in Medicare and Medicaid.”
In an email to CityLab, former HUD Secretary Castro was unsurprisingly harsh in his assessment: "This budget proposal deserves an F,” he wrote. “It would benefit the wealthy and military contractors at the expense of America's middle class and the poor. By cutting funds for housing opportunity, this budget would drive up homelessness for veterans, families and young people. Congress should reject it."
Meanwhile, in Detroit, new HUD Secretary Ben Carson just launched a national listening tour. Wherever he goes, he’s bound to get an earful from local housing advocates about the effects that deep budget cuts will have on their work: Across the country, no single county has enough affordable housing to meet the needs of its lowest income residents.