Not that long ago, Congress decided that, if times got tough financially, some hard decisions would have to be made. If a federal program were to expand or a new one be created, an “offset,” a cut in another program or an increase in taxes to pay for it, would have to be found. More recently, as massive tax cuts were enacted, Congress changed the rules. Programs (except for defense) could be scaled back to pay for tax cuts and deficits, but taxes need not be raised to pay for programs.
So the game unfolds: cut taxes, increase defense spending and slowly starve all those pesky federal programs that only serve the least deserving – poor and working families. In the current budget appropriation process, the House Appropriations Committee and its VA-HUD-IA subcommittee made their recommendations. To its credit, and as a testament to the ability of housing advocates to work together on important issues, the subcommittee rejected any cuts to the Section 8 program and also rejected making it a “flexible” program by block-granting it to the states.
But that good news has to be tempered by the reality that all other HUD programs are going to be cut – all of them, including the following:*
- more than $276 million cut to public housing and HOPE VI
- more than $209 million cut to community development programs
- more than $79 million cut to HOME
- more than $32 million cut to Section 202 Housing for the Elderly
- more than $11 million cut to Section 811 Housing for Persons with Disabilities
- more than $28 million cut to Native American housing block grants
- more than $12 million cut to Housing for Persons with AIDS
- more than $1.5 million cut to fair housing activities
- more than $850,000 cut to HUD’s rural housing and economic development program
- almost $7 million cut to lead hazard reduction
So where does that leave us? We may not be able to force the appropriators to vote how we think they should, but we can, as Sheila Crowley, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, suggests, “make sure they know the human and political consequences of what they have done and what they still might do.”
Damien Jackson helps us understand the human consequences of the more than $53 million to be cut from the McKinney Vento Homeless Assistance programs that provide vital resources to the growing number of homeless families and children. One key program helps provide education assistance for homeless children. For many of us who believe that education is as valuable an “asset” as a home, these cuts make it plain that we have a long battle ahead.
And that battle isn’t a new one. On the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, equal education has not yet come to all Mississippi schools. In response, communities around the state are using grassroots organizing, says Elizabeth Higgins Null, to continue the fight for equal access and against abuses of power and the structural racism prevalent in many of the state’s rural school districts.
Together, Jackson and Null show us the human and political consequences of a public policy that rewards the rich, punishes the poor and makes “opportunity for all” an empty phrase.
You know the numbers; barely one-quarter of eligible low-income households receive housing assistance. Those who do are the fortunate ones. While tens of thousands wait years for assistance, which for most will never come, a tiny handful of low-income households are becoming homeowners through a special Section 8 program. For these 2,000 lucky ones, the benefits of homeownership are now within their grasp. But Violet Law shows us that these benefits do not come without risk. And against the backdrop of unmet needs and threatened cuts to Section 8, the program itself may quickly disappear.
A Moving Target
George W. Bush tells us that the economy is improving. But Eric Belsky, Allegra Calder and Rachel Drew of Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies tell us that for many low-income Americans the economy is getting worse. Incomes are decreasing and housing costs are increasing at breakneck speed. Belsky and company warn that this growing mismatch between jobs and housing is setting up thousands of tenants, and their nonprofit landlords, for a fall.
A Larger Role
What role should CDCs play in their community? Housing developers? Community organizers? Here’s a role many groups already play, albeit on an ad hoc basis – mediators. With the changing demographics of increasingly diverse neighborhoods reflecting different ethnicities, cultures, ages, lifestyles and incomes, tensions often flare, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Ian Heisey walks us through the process and benefits of providing mediation services in your community.
In the next issue we profile the Family Self-Sufficiency Program, which has helped thousands of people build educational and financial assets. We’ll also take a close look at the brewing controversy around the siting of Low-Income Housing Tax Credit projects; some advocates contend it fosters segregation and concentrated poverty, while others hail its role in community revitalization.
*Source: NLIHC analysis of House VA-HUD-IA FY2005 appropriations.