Point of View: Trump’s Massive Cuts to Housing Must be Stopped

By Diane Yentel, NLIHC President and CEO

NLIHC President & CEO Diane YentelPresident Trump is expected to release his full FY2018 budget proposal tomorrow. We got a detailed preview through a leaked document on Friday, May 19. If the leaked budget is accurate, the proposed cuts would land a devastating blow to millions of low income people throughout the country, in a transparent effort to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy and increase defense spending. The Trump budget would slash HUD federal investments in affordable homes and community development by an astounding $7.7 billion.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson spoke at NLIHC’s Policy Forum last month and assured attendees that “nobody’s going to be thrown out on the street” as a result of the president’s budget. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said, “and it’s certainly not going to happen while I’m around.” Given what we knew at that time - that the administration would propose at least a 14% cut to HUD’s budget - I pushed Secretary Carson on this assurance. In front of the forum attendees, many of whom depend on HUD assistance to remain housed, and a CSPAN audience, I asked him to explain how he could assure people they wouldn’t lose their homes given the significant cuts proposed. He said, “I have been assured by the president and everyone else that if we come up with the most efficient ways to use dollars, there will not be anybody who will lack. I am absolutely determined to make sure that we do this in an effective and efficient manner.”

But the leaked HUD budget proposes cuts from a butcher’s axe rather than a surgeon’s knife. The budget belies Dr. Carson’s promises by proposing cuts that would directly harm millions of low income seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, veterans, and other vulnerable people who struggle to keep a roof over their heads. 

If enacted, the budget would result in the most severe cuts to HUD since President Reagan dramatically slashed its funding in the early 1980s. Reagan’s deep spending cuts ushered in the modern phenomenon of homelessness with a dramatic increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets, in cars, and in shelters. Years after those shortsighted and devastating cuts, a major infusion of resources were needed for homeless shelters and services.

That level of cuts were unprecedented at the time, and they’ve remained so since – until now. President Trump, it seems, is eager to follow in Mr. Reagan's footsteps of slashing affordable housing programs and increasing homelessness. He would do so during one of the worst affordable housing crises this country has ever experienced.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, Dr. Carson called the Section 8 voucher program “essential,” and said that removing assistance from families in need would be “unconscionable” and “cruel and unusual” without having alternative assistance available for those households. Yet the proposed budget would put more than 250,000 households at risk of losing their housing vouchers, dramatically increasing their risk of evictions and homelessness. This at a time when voucher waiting lists are already years, even decades, long due to a lack of resources. Today just one in four families who are eligible for and in need of federal rental assistance receives any help at all. 

The Trump budget would eliminate the national Housing Trust Fund (HTF), the first new housing resource in a generation and one that is exclusively targeted to help build and preserve housing affordable to people with the lowest incomes, including those experiencing homelessness.

President Trump would gut the public housing program, a crucial source of affordable housing for millions of Americans, at a time when the public housing stock already faces upwards of $40 billion of backlogged capital needs. He would starve states and communities, including Native American communities that suffer from the worst housing conditions in America, of the flexible, locally-driven resources they use to address their most pressing housing and community development needs. He cuts funding needed to keep low-income seniors, people with disabilities, people living with AIDS, and other vulnerable individuals in safe, affordable homes; reduces funding to address serious health risks posed by lead-based paint; and cuts resources to address homelessness.

And the list goes on. He would eliminate the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, the Legal Services Corporation - often the only resource available to help low income people avoid unwarranted evictions – and support programs that provide services to homeless and at-risk veterans and their families. He would even eliminate the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program that literally keeps the heat on throughout cold winters in the homes of seniors and families with young kids.

The Trump Administration would also impose punitive measures to households receiving housing assistance that would jeopardize family stability by increasing the financial burdens they face through higher rents and ending support to help cover the cost of basic utilities, like water and heat.

These proposed cuts are simply unconscionable and must be rejected by Congress.

You’ll hear time and again that Mr. Trump’s budget is a non-starter, which is very likely to be true given its extreme overreach. But remember: this budget proposal has moved the goal posts so far that it purposefully creates an environment where cuts only half as deep, or saving some programs slated for elimination while others receive deep cuts, seem like reasonable compromises. That is unacceptable.

And so are promises to replace funding for these programs through an infrastructure bill that may never be enacted. At NLIHC’s policy forum, Secretary Carson said, “I know a lot of people are very concerned about the budget and the numbers that are out there, they think it’s terrible and a crisis, and it’s not. But the part that people are not hearing, even though I’ve said it several times, is that this administration considers housing a significant part of infrastructure in our country. And, as such, the infrastructure bill that’s being worked on has a significant inclusion of housing in it.”

While we certainly agree that housing is infrastructure and that investments in affordable homes must be part of an infrastructure package, replacing annual funding for key programs with a one-time spending boost in a remotely possible spending package is wholly unacceptable. Instead, we must fully fund HUD and USDA programs through spending bills, and increase investments in the national HTF, public housing capital repairs, and other critical housing needs through an infrastructure bill.

The work of both defeating these draconian cuts and increasing investments in affordable homes won’t be easy. There will be drama, showdowns – maybe even shutdowns. Throughout it all, we will be steady, constant, and loud in our advocacy to end homelessness and housing poverty.

The Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding (CHCDF) is more necessary and more impactful than ever. Together, leaders from over 70 national housing and community development organizations work to ensure the highest possible funding levels for all HUD and USDA programs. We will work with allies in Congress and with residents, partners, stakeholders, and advocates across the country to ensure not only that this budget proposal is dead on arrival, but that Congress lifts the low spending caps required by the Budget Control Act of 2011 equally for defense and domestic programs and expands funding for critical affordable housing investments. Last month we sent to Congress a letter signed by more than 3,500 organizations urging that HUD programs be fully funded. Thanks to all of your efforts and actions, this is a powerful statement of support.

And we’re just getting started.

CHCDF, together with NLIHC’s state partners, members, mayors associations, and other concerned organizations and citizens are planning a Housing Day of Action this summer, with multiple coinciding actions throughout the country calling for critical housing and community development programs to be retained and expanded to meet the growing need. Stay tuned for more information soon on ways to get involved.

We have our work cut out for us. The threats to critical affordable housing programs that serve the lowest income households are immediate and severe. With the housing crisis having reached historic heights and with the lowest income people being hit hardest and suffering most, we will redouble our efforts - not only to protect, preserve, and defend critical housing programs, but to expand them.

Thank you for your partnership, for your commitment and for your advocacy, now and in the months to come. It’s never been more important.

Diane Signature