Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

April 12, 2017

Skinny Budget Sucker Punch

By David Reiss

The Waco Tribune-Herald quote me in Cutting Habitat Could Hurt Local Economy. It reads,

Last summer, through a series of tragic events, one of our longtime church members faced the frightening possibility of homelessness. She had lived with her father for more than 50 years and, following his death, she learned of a crippling reverse mortgage on their home. She couldn’t pay off the mortgage and so she had to find a new place to live.

Our congregation sprang into action. More than 50 people contributed to the purchase of a mobile home, but it required extensive remodeling, so several church members worked over 300 hours to make it livable. One handyman devoted about three months to the project full-time.

On Sept. 21, we presented her with the keys to her new home during worship. It was one of the most uplifting moments I’ve had in 23 years of ministry. This congregation-wide labor of love brought us all closer to one another and closer to God. It was a demonstration of the love of Jesus Christ and it was transformative.

Home ownership changes lives and changes communities. I serve as a board member and volunteer for Waco Habitat for Humanity. Since 1986, Waco Habitat has built and sold 168 homes and completed another 414 home repairs and preservation projects. Over the past three decades, the economic impact of all these services exceeds $6.9 million in greater Waco. In a community that generally tracks about 15 percent higher than the state average for poverty rates and 20 percent lower than the state average for home ownership rates, this impact cannot be overstated. It’s transformative as well.

The “skinny budget” unveiled by the Trump administration on March 16 proposes reducing federal spending on housing programs and assistance by 13 percent. Among other cuts, it seeks to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant Program; Home Investment Partnerships Program; Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program; CDFI fund, which administers the New Market Tax Credit program at Treasury; and entire Corporation for National and Community Service, which implements the AmeriCorps program.

One reason I work with Habitat is because it offers a hand up, not a hand out. If these cuts are approved by Congress, they will devastate Habitat’s ability to offer that hand up. Other local housing agencies and organizations will see a similarly crippling effect.

Fortunately, this is just the first pass of the federal budget, and many members of Congress — including many Republicans — have already voiced opposition to it. For instance, Rep. Hal Rogers said: “While we have a responsibility to reduce our federal deficit, I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the president’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive.”

David Reiss, director of academic programs at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship, echoes this. “Terminating these programs out of the blue is like a sucker punch in the gut of countless communities across the country.”

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