Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
The White House’s 2019 proposal is even harsher than the last one.
The chances that Congress will pass the Trump administration’s budget for 2019 are narrow. Congress never touched the 2018 budget that gutted the Environmental Protection Agency and scuttled the National Endowment for the Arts. That budget would have cut funding for transportation by $2.4 billion and slashed programs for housing aid by $6 billion. It never happened.
There’s no appetite for austerity among Republicans right now. Last week, lawmakers instead passed a two-year budget agreement that lifted spending caps put in place during the Obama administration. That bill further raised spending by $300 billion. The next omnibus spending bill is unlikely to meet the president on his domestic offsets for spending hikes on defense and the border.
Still, if the 2019 budget were to pass, it would pose unimaginable hardship for vulnerable families. The latest recommendations are even harsher than the last budget proposal, including wholesale cuts to public housing. While those cuts are unlikely to happen, the day will come—as soon as the midterm elections in November, even!—when the GOP rediscovers its purported devotion to balanced budgets. So it’s worth examining this document as a harbinger of what may come next.
The fiscal year 2019 budget proposal released by the White House wipes out the public housing capital fund. This $1.9 billion program provides funds for modernizing and rehabilitating public housing across the country. The Trump administration’s last budget proposal called for cutting this program by 66 percent, but this budget simply zeroes it out.
The 2018 budget from the House, meanwhile, proposed cutting the public housing capital fund by 3 percent. The Senate proposal actually raised its budget by $45 million, or 2 percent.
The White House further calls for cutting a related program, the public housing operating fund, by 37 percent—from $4.5 billion to $2.8 billion. That cut is almost three times larger than what the Trump administration proposed for 2018. The administration appears to have public housing in its crosshairs. Earlier this month, a draft reform bill from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development revealed that the administration is mulling work requirements for public housing residents as well as rent hikes for housing aid recipients.
Those cuts would fall especially hard on New York, where the New York City Housing Authority receives some $2 billion of its $3.2 billion budget from federal funds. Reductions in the public housing operating fund could cost NYCHA some $466 million, while the elimination of the public housing capital fund would mean another $346 million stripped from the agency’s budget, according to the Community Preservation Corporation.
The 2019 budget does include a hike for Rental Assistance Demonstration, the Trump administration’s pet program at HUD. This popular program converts public housing into private, voucher-funded rental housing; since 2012, more than 60,000 public housing units have been converted through RAD. Lifting the unit cap on this initiative and giving it $100 million in federal support, as the Trump administration proposes, could fetch bipartisan support. But the easiest or no-cost conversions have happened already, according to housing experts, meaning that future funds may not yield the same results. In any case, a minor boost to one program can’t make up for gutting support for public housing.
“They’ve taken away $1.9 billion and given back $100 million,” says Peter Lawrence, director of public policy and government relations for Novogradac and Company, a national certified public accounting and consultancy firm.
The White House proposal for 2019 retains all the cuts that it introduced last year: It wipes out Community Development Block Grants, HOME Investment Partnerships, and the Self-Help Homeownership program. Such drastic cuts have drawn appeals from the National Housing Conference as well as former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, among others.
“This moment calls for greater investment in affordable housing, not less,” says Jonathan Reckford, CEO for Habitat for Humanity in an email. “We urge Congress to rise to this moment by rejecting these cuts and investing now before another generation of struggling families are forced to pick between housing and food.”
So far, both chambers of Congress have resisted the Trump administration’s calls to eliminate housing aid programs. An even stricter 2019 budget isn’t any more likely to pass than the 2018 budget. But the hard turn on public housing will be important to watch once Republicans sour on spending—which is likely to happen whenever Democrats regain some measure of power in the government.