Editor: David Reiss
Brooklyn Law School

February 13, 2018

Trump’s War on HUD

By David Reiss

Shots Across The Bow

President Trump’s budget for fiscal year 2019 offers these highlights for the Department of Housing and Urban Development:

  • The Budget reflects the President’s commitment to fiscal responsibility by reforming programs to encourage the dignity of work and self-sufficiency while supporting critical functions that provide assistance to vulnerable households. The Budget recognizes a greater role for State and local governments and the private sector to address community and economic development needs and affordable housing production.
  • The Budget requests $39.2 billion in gross discretionary funding for HUD, an $8.8 billion or 18.3-percent decrease from the 2017 enacted level. (63)

The specifics are somewhat unbelievable. For instance, the budget

  • “eliminates programs that are duplicative or have failed to demonstrate effectiveness, such as the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program . . .” (Id.) and
  • does not request funding for the Public Housing Capital Fund, as the provision of affordable housing should be a responsibility more fully shared with State and local governments. (64)

Similar to other Trump documents, the budget veers toward incoherence when it states that

The Budget proposes legislative reforms to encourage work and self-sufficiency across its core rental assistance programs, consistent with broader Administration goals. Currently, tenants generally pay 30 percent of their adjusted income toward rent. The Administration’s reforms require able-bodied individuals to shoulder more of their housing costs and provide an incentive to increase their earnings. (Id.)

Decreasing the housing subsidy will decrease, not increase, the incentive to work. All other things being equal, increasing a household’s rent the more they work will discourage additional work.

It is hard to know what to do with a budget like this. Already, the Administration is backtracking on some of the cuts, including some of those targeting HUD. It seems highly unlikely that Congressional Republicans will wipe out the CDBG program because those funds are spread across their districts as well. But this sally in the budget wars is more than a shot across HUD’s bow. Rather, it reflects a strategy of weakening the safety net for those most in need.

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