Each year that President Donald Trump has been in office and has sent his annual budget request to Congress, he has proposed massive cuts to federal affordable housing programs, as well as other essential programs that ensure basic living standards for low-income Americans. For this upcoming fiscal year, President Trump proposed to slash the budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by a whopping $9.6 billion or 18 percent below fiscal year (FY) 2019’s congressionally enacted funding levels. The president proposed eliminating several programs, including funding that ensures public housing agencies (PHAs) have the money they need to address their most pressing capital needs, like fixing leaking roofs or replacing outdated heating systems. Additionally, the president proposed to reduce housing benefits by increasing rents and imposing harmful work requirements on some of our country’s poorest families who are lucky enough to receive federal housing assistance from PHAs and private owners who are subsidized by HUD.
In the past 20 years alone, HUD has provided housing assistance to more than 35 million households. Without the opportunity that HUD has provided, many of these families would be homeless, living in substandard or overcrowded conditions, or unable to afford other basic necessities because so much of their limited incomes would be spent on rent. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent supplemental poverty measure showed that housing assistance raised almost 3 million people out of poverty in 2017. But despite their proven track record, HUD’s affordable housing programs are chronically underfunded.
It’s a bitter truth that three out of four American households who are eligible for HUD assistance do not receive it because of lack of funding. Unlike other basic needs programs, affordable housing is not an entitlement in this country. Families often languish on waitlists for years, and some housing providers close their waitlists altogether to avoid giving people a sense of false hope. According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there is a shortage of 7 million homes that are affordable and available to America’s poorest families. If the Trump budget were ever enacted, it would greatly exacerbate this dire situation. If anything, our government should be increasing critical investments in programs that ensure families have decent, accessible, and affordable places to call home.
Thankfully, Congress has largely ignored President Trump’s budget requests with lawmakers in both parties turning to an old Washington, D.C., saying: “The President proposes, Congress disposes.” The past two years, Congress has increased HUD’s budget to ensure the renewal of housing assistance and to target new resources to help vulnerable populations. However, while the Trump administration has failed to enact its proposed cuts, it has used its budget request as a blueprint for the further demolition and disposition of our nation’s remaining public housing stock that is home to almost 1 million households, the majority of whom have a senior or disabled family member.
Public housing has seen decades of underfunding during both democratic and republican administrations. As a result, public housing now faces a backlog of capital repair needs of at least $50 billion, threatening the quality and even the existence of these homes. While we ought to determine what public housing can be preserved and what cannot, the Trump administration has taken an aggressive approach to getting rid of all public housing one way or another. Last November, HUD’s Office of Public and Indian Housing (PIH) sent a letter to PHAs signaling the agency’s intent to dramatically reduce its public housing stock, euphemistically calling it “repositioning public housing.” HUD cited the capital backlog as the reason to provide PHAs with “additional flexibilities” to reposition their housing stock. HUD’s immediate goal is to reposition 105,000 public housing units by September 2019. HUD later updated this goal in the agency’s most recent budget request to 125,000 units—more than 10 percent of the remaining public housing stock—to be repositioned by the end of FY 2020. HUD listed four means of repositioning public housing: utilizing the Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) program, demolishing public housing, facilitating the voluntary conversion of public housing to vouchers, and releasing PHAs from their declarations of trust with HUD.