Fair-housing advocates and experts in urban policy say that significant cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development could be devastating to cities and low-income families across the country, probably stalling backlogged repairs at public-housing units and driving down the availability of subsidized housing vouchers.
The Trump administration has considered more than $6 billion in cuts to HUD’s budget, according to preliminary 2018 budget documents obtained by The Washington Post. According to the document, federal budget officials have discussed billions of dollars in reductions to public maintenance funds and have considered eliminating several community development grants that fund such services as meal assistance and cleaning up abandoned properties.
In an email to HUD staff Thursday, Secretary Ben Carson emphasized that budget negotiations between the department and the White House are “currently underway” and that the numbers being considered could change.
“It’s unfortunate that preliminary numbers were published out but please take some comfort in knowing that starting numbers are rarely final numbers,” Carson wrote.
While suggesting significant cuts, the preliminary budget maintains the same level of funding to rental-assistance programs. It appears designed to follow President Trump’s goals of heavily cutting domestic spending to steer money toward national security interests. The discussed cuts would lower HUD’s budget by about 14 percent.
Douglas Rice, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, estimates that the funding levels detailed in the budget document could lead to a loss of about 200,000 rental-assistance units nationwide, in part because of the rising cost of housing and inflation. He said that HUD’s spending in recent years already has shrunk because of the Budget Control Act of 2011.
“The reality is that we’ve been living under these austere budget caps, and budgets like HUD’s have already been pretty much cut to the bone,” Rice said. “And when you try to cut below that, you really end up with harmful impacts.”
Several congressional Republicans declined to comment on whether they would support the cuts if they are presented in Trump’s final budget. Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), chairman of the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, did not respond to a request for comment.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said the cuts under consideration would have far-reaching effects on the nation’s cities, noting that public housing already suffers from tens of billions of dollars in backlogged repair needs.
In the budget documents, HUD requested that some maintenance funds be included in a separate infrastructure package. The Trump administration has indicated that it hopes to put a massive infrastructure bill before Congress, but officials have not previously discussed including housing projects in such a package. Those maintenance funds are typically used to fix boilers, replace broken doors, address plumbing problems and deal with other essential service equipment, such as heating in public housing.
Housing authorities across the country are anxiously waiting for the White House to release its final budget proposal next week and are assessing their next steps. Crystal Walker, a spokeswoman for the New York City Housing Authority, said that any cuts would hurt the authority’s ability to serve “the 600,000 New Yorkers who rely on NYCHA.”
“We already operate on very bare bones. We already don’t get 100 percent of what we need to operate,” Walker said after reviewing the preliminary HUD budget numbers. “On the capital side, we’ve been underfunded for years. Any additional cuts are going to be very, very serious.”
Megan Hustings, interim director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, said billions of dollars in cuts could result in increased homelessness or shelter dependence.
“The funding already isn’t there,” she said. “There’s a massive need for these programs.”
Hustings said that forcing people into homelessness can cause cyclical issues, adding that people who have evictions on their records might struggle to find housing again.
“It’s a cycle — a slow ride to the bottom that people tend to experience. Folks and families will use every resource they have before they go to a shelter,” she said. “You cycle down, and once people end up in a shelter or homeless, they have absolutely no resources left. They are out on their own.”
Rice said that these budget priorities do not reflect Trump’s campaign rhetoric on redeveloping low-income neighborhoods and helping minority communities.
Although Rice he said that it’s likely that Carson was not involved in the early budget discussions between HUD and the Office of Management and Budget — the documents were produced before he had been confirmed as secretary — he also said that prior experience shows that the budget numbers might not change as heavily as Carson seemed to suggest they might in his email.
“They’re proposing really large tax cuts that benefit just the wealthiest people in this country,” Rice said. “That makes this clear that this is not really about reducing the deficit, it’s about budget priorities. What we’re seeing here are really skewed priorities.”