Alarms raised about the Trump administration’s commitment to HUD programs.
President Donald Trump’s vow to rebuild America’s inner cities looks increasingly suspect in light of his administration’s request to slash $6.2 billion from Department of Housing and Urban Development to help offset hefty increases in the defense budget.
The discussions thus far raise alarms about the administration’s commitment to — and understanding of — HUD’s long-running community development and affordable housing programs.
The proposal, for instance, would cut funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, established in 1975 to expand housing opportunities and address infrastructure needs like roads and utilities in low-income areas. Gutting the program, which also fosters public-private partnerships in communities around the country, contradicts Trump’s campaign pledges to rebuild America’s infrastructure and promote economic development and job growth.
Another target of the cuts is the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative, a successful grant program started in 2011 to assist the transformation of troubled neighborhoods into mixed-income, mixed-use communities. Fortunately, the cuts wouldn’t affect a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods grant awarded last year to rebuild Sun Valley, Denver’s poorest neighborhood.
The contract with HUD has been signed, according to Stella Madrid, community affairs officer at the Denver Housing Authority (DHA). Plans call for creation of 750 housing units, commercial space, an entertainment district and riverfront parks in the longstruggling neighborhood, where 83 percent of residents live in poverty.
But the cuts would jeopardize similar urban revitalization efforts nationwide and hurt other critical HUD programs already strained by budget reductions pushed by Congress in recent years. “There are nearly 1,000 households struggling to pay their rent because we can’t issue new housing vouchers at today’s funding levels,” DHA executive director Ismael Guerrero said.
The administration’s proposal, which would reduce HUD’s budget by 14 percent, would cut even deeper into the nation’s rental assistance programs, including vouchers for low-income veterans. Other critical programs, including housing for the elderly and people with disabilities, would be hit, too.
The proposal also focuses on short-term savings that would generate long-term costs. The administration’s cuts would remove $1.3 billion from capital funds, despite a 2010 HUD report that found a backlog of repairs to public housing units totaling tens of billions of dollars. Those repairs cannot be put off forever.
Guerrero points out the proposed cuts run counter to House Speaker Paul Ryan’s push to address poverty and incoming HUD Secretary Ben Carson’s focus on revitalizing inner cities. “Education, employment and economic development goals will not succeed if families don’t have a safe, stable, and affordable place to call home,” he said.
The cuts are part of Trump’s plan to reduce domestic spending by billions to pay for increases in the budgets for defense and homeland security. The nation’s defense is certainly paramount, and the federal budget is certainly due for contraction, but a defter, more thoughtful approach is needed to ensure that the budget addresses the Pentagon’s actual needs and that valuable domestic programs are not thrown away in the process.
In the weeks ahead, congressional leaders need to defend HUD’s successes and ensure the administration understands that these initiatives actually serve the president’s stated goals — and the nation’s best interests.