During his campaign for president, Donald Trump pledged to help inner cities and African American communities in particular. But his proposed budget eliminates programs that have helped these communities for years, and would deal a particular blow to Americans with the lowest incomes.
The proposed budget, announced Thursday, would slash funding from federal agencies that lend assistance to poor people who live in cities, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services. “This budget seriously harms low-income people and communities at the expense of everyone else,” says Elyse Cherry, the CEO of Boston Community Capital, a nonprofit that provides funding to organizations that work on affordable housing and jobs in low-income communities.
One of the agencies that does the most work in cities is the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which owns and maintains public-housing complexes across America, provides vouchers for low-income people to live in private housing, and doles out grants that help nonprofits and developers invest in essential parts of neighborhoods, such as apartments and parks. The budget proposes a $6.2 billion cut from HUD next year, which would represent a 13.2 percent decrease from the level of funding for this year.
What specifically would go away? Among other things, the budget eliminates the roughly $3 billion of funding for the Community Development Block Grant program, which provides money for neighborhood investment, saying that the program “is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results.” It also eliminates funding for the HOME Investment Partnership Program, which provides grants for low-income people to buy or rehabilitate homes, and the Choice Neighborhoods program, which provides grants to organizations attempting to revitalize neighborhoods. The proposed budget also eliminates the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, which coordinates how 19 federal agencies respond to homelessness.
“If all of those cuts were implemented, they would have some pretty extreme effects not only on cities, but on low-income households,” says Robert Silverman, a professor of urban and regional planning at the University of Buffalo. (This is a big if—the proposed budget lays out the administration’s priorities, but will likely be significantly altered before it gets approved by Congress and signed by the president.) The Community Development Block Grant program, for example, has been essential in providing funds that cities use for a variety of activities, including building parks, funding after-school programs, and supplementing the funding of nonprofits. HUD has been trying to ensure that the money is used most effectively in recent years, even as funding levels have been reduced, Silverman said. (The Community Development Block Grant already receives 49 percent less funding than it did in the year 2000, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a left-leaning nonprofit.)
Trump’s proposed cuts represent the most severe funding threat to HUD since the early days of the Reagan administration, according to Diane Yentel, the president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, a nonprofit.
Sunia Zaterman, the executive director of the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, said that a more detailed version of the budget being reported on by some media outlets is set on reducing money that pays for maintenance of public-housing complexes, and on the program that provides vouchers for low-income residents to help them pay for housing. That budget is one sent from the Office of Management and Budget to HUD, in response to a budget that HUD itself proposed. Those numbers indicated that the Trump administration would cut hundreds of thousands of vouchers from the Section 8 program, which is facing a severe shortage of resources, she said. Already, some public-housing agencies have decided not to open long-closed voucher waiting lists because of the uncertainty around the funding of the vouchers.
That OMB budget also indicated funding cuts for public-housing agencies’ maintenance and repair work, Zaterman said. This will be a particular obstacle to agencies like the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA), which gets $2 billion of its $3.2 billion operating budget from HUD and currently has $17.1 billion in unmet capital needs. NYCHA told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month that it could see $150 million in cuts from HUD. “It’s a pretty direct message I think that says we are no longer investing in this public portfolio—we are walking away from this,” Zaterman said. “The cumulative effect on low-income people is going to be devastating.”
It’s not just the budget’s provisions regarding HUD that would significantly reduce support to low-income communities. The proposed budget would also dispose of $4.2 billion in community-services programs from the Department of Health and Human Services such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides funds to help poor people pay energy bills in winter. It would cut $1.2 billion in funding in before-school and after-school programs and summer programs from the Department of Education. It would eliminate funding for the Legal Services Corporation, which helps low-income people with legal issues, such as fighting an eviction in court. It would get rid of the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund from the Department of Treasury, which provides capital to underserved neighborhoods and programs. “It seems like any program that emerged in the last 40 or 50 years to address environmental issues, education inequality, affordable housing, or fair housing, all seem to very low priority,” Silverman said.
Of course, this document is just a starting point, and there will be many negotiations over the budget yet to come. HUD Secretary Ben Carson reportedly sent a memo to employees last week to reassure staffers that the numbers were preliminary, and that “starting numbers are rarely final numbers,” according to the Associated Press.
But the document indicates where the Trump administration’s priorities lie. And they don’t seem to include many programs that have helped cities’ poorest residents.