Advocates rally against housing budget cuts
Trump, Republican-led Congress put forward plans for deep budget cuts
Hundreds of housing advocates from Boston and across the state gathered near Faneuil Hall last week to protest budget cuts proposed by President Trump especially, and Congress to a lesser degree, that would decimate funding for many key housing-related programs.
Speakers at the July 31 rally included U.S. Representative Katherine Clark, Mayor Marty Walsh, leaders of housing-focused nonprofits and ordinary residents who spoke of their struggles to attain or keep secure and permanent housing.
On the Web
National Low Income Housing Coalition: http://nlihc.org
Center on Budget and Policy Priorities: www.cbpp.org
The People’s Budget: http://cpcbudget.org
Programs hanging in the balance as the federal budget process for Fiscal Year 2018 plows unsteadily forward include public housing, Section 8 housing choice vouchers, the Choice Neighborhoods program, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), which help cities fund housing, community, and economic development projects that assist low and moderate-income residents, and the HOME Investment Partnership (HOME) program that assists in development and preservation of affordable housing.
“We have an administration that needs to be reminded every single day that our economy only works when everyone has a chance to participate,” said Clark, a Democrat who represents a swath of communities north and west of Boston. “When you see the cuts … they’re not only cruel and callous, but they pose a threat to our economic future and the future of our children and grandchildren.”
Drastic housing budget cuts, she said, represent “a recipe for public housing to fall into disrepair and shutter, for our homeless population to increase, and a skyrocketing burden on our already-strapped emergency shelter system.”
Walsh called on the federal government to cut through partisanship and help cities help their residents.
“We need Washington to understand the impacts of HUD cutting money back on poor people,” he said. “It’s not a Democratic and Republican issue. It’s an American issue. … Our city and our region rely on support from our federal partners. We need stable affordable housing or all families, and it’s time to move forward and do even more.”
The event was part of a national week of action promoted by the National Low Income Housing Coalition to protest the Trump budget and demand that Congress allocate sufficient funding to programs that provide housing and anti-homelessness support.
The local rally was organized by Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA), a statewide nonprofit umbrella organization for affordable housing and community development activities.
Rachel Heller, CHAPA’s executive director, told the crowd the budget proposals coming out of Congress are better than expected, and certainly better than what the president proposed.
“So it’s a ‘yay’ and a ‘boo,’” she said.
But more investment is needed, she said. She noted that more than 85 percent of HUD’s current budget goes to renewing housing assistance for people already in their homes.
“So when HUD’s resources are cut, or don’t grow with increasing costs,” she said, “it threatens the stability that millions of people have achieved with the help of rental assistance — never mind the more than 100,000 people in Massachusetts who are on Section 8 wait lists right now. How long will they have to wait to get the help they need?”
Trump’s proposed budget decreases Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) funding 13.2 percent overall. It would eliminate more than 250,000 Section 8 vouchers, eliminate the CDBG program altogether and raise rents for low-income households now receiving federal rental assistance, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The House Appropriations Committee’s proposed HUD budget has cuts less drastic than the president’s budget, but still would cut 140,000 Section 8 vouchers. The CBPP’s state-by-state analysis estimates that in Massachusetts, even the House bill would cut 5,217 housing vouchers. Such reductions in rental assistance would have a ripple effect on efforts to combat homelessness, the CBPP says.
On a more positive note, the Senate Appropriation Committee’s bill protects many housing programs. It preserves funding for Section 8 vouchers and many other programs, including CDBG, Homeless Assistance Grants and the Public Housing Capital Fund, and increases funds for some others. However, the Senate Bill still reduces funds for the Choice Neighborhoods program and the Public Housing Operating Fund.
Which of these scenarios play out remains to be seen, said Michael Kane, executive director of the National Alliance of HUD Tenants. The House and Senate bills will need to be hashed out and resolved in a Conference Committee, but there are various “wild cards,” Kane said, such as Sen. Paul Ryan’s budget resolution and alternative proposals, such as the People’s Budget devised by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. While the budget wrangling is supposed to be wrapped up before Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, often this does not come to pass, and Continuing Resolutions extend the process.
At the rally, speakers expressed urgency. The on-the-ground reality witnessed by advocates and residents is that many assistance programs already are underfunded. They are unable to meet current need, much less withstand cuts. An oft-cited fact from housing advocates, also mentioned on the CBPP site, is that even now, without these new proposed cuts, only one-quarter of households eligible for housing assistance actually receive it.
In an interview, CHAPA’s Heller put it bluntly: “The main problem is that the funding is completely inadequate for the need. The House and Senate proposals do not include a lot of the most harmful cuts, but they’re still not at the level needed. … If we continue on this level, the programs are going to shrink. And we have an increasing need. This is not the direction we can afford to head in.”
Nilya Montalvo, director of leadership and community building at Homes for Families, a statewide anti-homelessness advocacy group, spoke early in the rally and sounded an emotional note.
“I say to the powers that be: There is no excuse that justifies homelessness, no context in which it’s totally fine to have people living in our streets, no scenario where it’s okay to turn a blind eye and divest,” she said. “We need you to increase and invest. Housing is a human right. … There is no one that is unworthy of a place to rest their head, wash their face, cook a meal or keep warm when it is cold out.”