The House Department of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations held a hearing on March 4 about the HUD budget request for FY21. Members of the subcommittee asked HUD Secretary Ben Carson, the sole witness, a number of questions about the president’s budget request, regulatory proposals, and other concerns about specific programs.
The president’s FY21 budget request proposed cutting HUD funding by $8.6 billion (15%) compared to FY20 congressionally enacted levels. Secretary Carson stated that the requested cuts and eliminations of programs are to reduce the national deficit. He acknowledged that several of the programs the budget proposed eliminating, such as CDBG and HOME, are great models but suggested state and local governments should be providing these resources, not the federal government. During their opening remarks, both Chair David Price (D-NC) and Ranking Member Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) noted the budget request did included increased funds for Section 202 Housing for the Elderly, Section 811 Housing for People with Disabilities, and the Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control program.
Several representatives, including Chair Price and Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA) and Pete Aguilar (D-CA), noted the proposed budget cut funding for homelessness assistance grants despite the administration’s rhetoric about addressing increased homelessness in certain parts of the country. Secretary Carson pushed back stating that the budget proposal requested a higher amount, although it was unclear if he was making a comparison to the FY20 budget request or the FY20 enacted level (which is $4 million above the president’s FY21 budget request). Representative Clark noted that the administration’s proposal excluded an important set-aside in homeless assistance grants for survivors of domestic violence; Secretary Carson claimed this need was addressed in a different way in the budget.
Representative John Rutherford (R-FL) said that several organizations serving people experiencing homelessness in his district had not received funding. As later pointed out by Chair Price, Representative Rutherford was asking about FY19 funds, but Secretary Carson took the opportunity to complain that Congress had prevented him from making changes to the criteria for Continuum of Care funding. In the FY20 HUD spending bill Congress sent a bipartisan, bicameral sign of support for the Housing First model, which Secretary Carson tried to undermine in the Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) for the FY19 funds that Representative Rutherford asked about. Secretary Carson expressed his continued desire to move away from the Housing First model, stating that he is “looking for ways to work around the system.” Representative Aguilar pressed the secretary on this statement, telling him that a policy directive from Congress is not a suggestion and should not be ignored. Secretary Carson maintained his stance that Housing First is ineffective, despite decades of research showing its successes.
Several members of the committee also questioned Secretary Carson about recent regulatory proposals, including the mixed-status immigrant family rule, changes to the Disparate Impact and Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rules, and the lack of any guidance on protecting LBGTQ people experiencing homelessness. Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) condemned HUD’s proposed AFFH rule, stating that the new definition of AFFH “no longer includes both desegregation and community investment” and focuses instead on the supply of housing. When pushed, Secretary Carson could not explain how the rule would encourage any affirmative action to advance housing choice, particularly from jurisdictions that have ignored that responsibility. Instead the secretary called his proposed rule a “bottom up” approach. The AFFH proposed rule is open for public comment through March 16 (visit https://www.fightforhousingjustice.org/affh to comment and learn more). Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) also confronted Secretary Carson about his decision to remove guidance from HUD’s website about implementing the Equal Access Rule, which provides critical protections for trans individuals seeking emergency shelter, without providing any new guidance. The secretary responded that the agency is working on the rule and that he believes “everyone gets equal rights, but nobody gets extra rights.” Trans people, particularly trans people of color, experience much higher rates of homelessness than the broader population.
Members of the committee asked about a number of other issues, including the need for public housing funding, the new Federal Financial Monitor for disaster recovery funds in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and low morale among HUD staff.
A recording of the hearing is at: https://tinyurl.com/t4k7h3u