Public housing tenants will be left out in the cold
May 3, 2005
The Bush administration's proposal to slash the 2006 public housing budget could leave thousands of Americans out in the cold.
The cuts, which would be the largest since Washington first began subsidizing housing, could force agencies to fire maintenance workers, reduce services and close buildings. It could cut as much as $480 million, or 14 percent, of the $3.4 billion federal budget for day-to-day operations, according to the New York Times.
This could have a severe impact on the HOPE VI grant program, which Congress and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) created in 1992 to help revitalize the nation's most distressed public housing communities and to help families move out of poverty. At the time, the government decided to upgrade the face of public housing and turn much of it into mixed-use housing in blighted neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, that goal seems to have no currency now.
After awarding HOPE VI almost $5.5 billion for a program that many describe as transformational and award-winning, the feds now want to zero out the funds -- and even take back the $143 million that was allocated for fiscal year 2005.
HUD says that because HOPE VI has demolished more than 100,000 distressed units in a decade, the program doesn't need to do anything additional. Yet the department gets three applications for every HOPE VI grant it can award, and these grants leverage billions of dollars of private investment in blighted communities. What's more, improving public housing helps generate jobs and improve lives.
Why cut a program that works?
Because cutting programs is the name of the game for this Bush administration. More than 150 programs face the knife in the 2006 budget. Many of the cuts are focused on those at the bottom -- people with low or moderate incomes -- or those who need a little bit of government assistance to get by.
According to the Council of Large Public Housing Authorities, public housing is home to more than two million seniors, people with disabilities and low-income families with children. Many of them would likely experience hardship because of cuts in the public housing budget and other rollbacks.
Yet in the name of balancing the budget, both the House and the Senate have broadly agreed with the president's plan.
Penny-pinchers may rejoice in these cuts and see them as savings, but these "savings" could have serious -- and more costly -- long-term effects.
For instance, agencies may have to postpone badly needed repairs in public housing. The result of deferred maintenance is much the same in public housing as it is in our own homes. If we postpone repairs, the value of our property deteriorates, and problems that could be fixed for a few dollars end up costing hundreds, even thousands, in the long run.
The budget proposal would also cut services to those in public housing whose household incomes are at $11,000 a year. Some of the services include those that would help low-income families buy homes. Ironically, a department that says it wants to eliminate homelessness may be exacerbating it with these program cuts.
Reductions in the public housing operating fund and in the capital budget mean that the quality of life in public housing could decline. And with inadequate funding in public housing alternatives, even fewer people will have a place to go.
The Bush administration's budget could lead our nation's public housing programs to crumble to ruins.