It is still a proposed blueprint, but the Trump Administration’s proposal to cut the budget of various non-defense related federal agencies by $54 billion-plus has many advocates for housing and assistance for the poor, the environment and education concerned.
The Administration is working on its first budget and while agencies such as Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would have their budgets cut, the Department of Defense will get a hefty raise.
Also in the works is a cut in the Commerce Department’s budget which has Coast Guard leaders worried.
And funding may be siphoned from non-defense agency budgets to pay for President Donald J. Trump’s wall on the Mexican border to fulfill a campaign promise.
HUD’s budget, under Trump, could take a $6 billion dollar hit, according to White House Budget documents obtained by the media.
The cuts could negatively impact public housing support and maintenance, housing vouchers and erase money for Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) programs, used by community action agencies and cities to assist the poor and fund business growth in neglected communities.
The CDBG program is expected to receive some $3 billion this year and that could be cut severely if the Trump Administration carries out its plans.
The HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides block grants for local communities to build affordable housing and the Choice Neighborhoods program which invests in redeveloping low income communities, would be cut, as well.
The budget calls for some $4 billion in community planning and development grants used to clean up struggling neighborhoods, to be eliminated under the Office of Management and Budget’s proposal.
Direct rental assistance, including Section 8 vouchers and housing vouchers for homeless veterans, would be cut by at least $300 million.
Also housing for the elderly known as the Section 202 would be cut by $42 million – nearly 10 percent. The Section 811 housing program for people with disabilities would be slashed by $29 million.
Money for Native Americans’ housing block grants would fall by $150 million or 10 percent.
A HUD spokesperson, Jereon Brown called the budget a “work in progress.”
The funding for public housing authorities, the city and state agencies which provide subsidized housing and vouchers to poor local residents, would be the hardest hit at about 14 percent or $600 million.
With election of Trump, and his nomination of Black Conservative Republican Ben Carson, housing advocates for the poor feared such cuts. Carson, a noted brain surgeon, worth millions, recently bought a $1.3 million mansion in the D.C. area.
Carson has often been critical of low income people for being too “dependent” on public assistance, even during the low point in the nation’s economic standing.
Locally, community action agencies and housing authorities say they are being cautious about their reaction to the budget plan, for political forces may change the White House’s outlook on the issue.
Edward Ware, the Director of Communications and Government Relations for the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA), said it is too early to determine what the impact could be on the agency’s ability to serve its existing programs.
He said that NRHA officials will be meeting with U.S. Congressman Robert Scott, and Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner on March 28 to discuss the impact of the cuts in funding for the agency and others.
All three lawmakers are Democrats and the Republicans control the White House and both houses of Congress. Unless there are some Republican defections, Democrats will not be able to deter cuts from being approved.
Norfolk has the largest amount of residents in Hampton Roads benefiting from HUD and other federal funding for housing assistance and development.
Currently according to NRHA Board Chair Barbara Hamm Lee, some 17,000-plus poor and working class people rely on some form of federal assistance for housing and other services in Norfolk alone.
She said there are 14,558 people and their families living in the city’s six public housing units and sites for the elderly, which have about 3,496 units.
She said NRHA directly funds 2,921 housing choice vouchers used by 6,758 families in units not in public housing communities.
NRHA receives about $27 million in choice vouchers and that would be cut $3.8 million dollars. Four hundred families would lose funding.
Ware said the public housing wait list currently stands at 1,190 and housing choice voucher list at 7,856.
The Trump administration’s cuts would impact the housing authorities’ maintenance budgets used for upkeep of public housing units. Norfolk’s share now stands at $5.2 million and would be cut 14 percent.
Hamm Lee said NRHA would lose $2.1 million of the $15 million in operating subsidies for public housing from HUD if the cuts are applied.
Another $880,000 would be cut from its $6 million capital maintenance fund.
Also with the 14 percent cut, the CDBG funding which is used by the city for commercial development would be “killed.” First time home buyer counseling could be eliminated.
The HOME program would be disbanded. It provides down payment and closing costs for first time home buyers.
Hamm Lee said that one saving grace for Norfolk is its fiscal reserves derived from rents in two apartment complexes which charge market rents and other developments to generate revenue used to support programs for the poor and aged.
“It is too early,” said Hamm-Lee. “But we hope that some changes will be made in this proposed plan. We hope that people in D.C. will come to their senses because of the impact it has on so many people.”
According to a press release from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, currently just one in four low income people in need of assistance, including seniors, people with disabilities, families with children, and veterans, get the help that they need. In light of these considerations, the cuts that are being suggested will increase homelessness.
“The proposed cuts would devastate critical programs that keep roofs over the heads of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” noted the release.
“They are in direct contrast to Mr. Trump’s promises to revitalize distressed communities and ensure that ‘nobody’s going to be dying on the street’ from homelessness.”
By Leonard E. Colvin