The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has released several reports this year that show what most of us already know. As communities mobilize to end homelessness, the remarkable gains that are being made through concerted local efforts are being undermined by federal policy that actually decreased HUD funding by $3.3 billion between 2004 and 2006. Further cuts are likely this year.
While McKinney-Vento funding grew by $70 million between 2002 and 2006, these increases are dwarfed by the cuts to HUD and other programs that affect low-income people.
These cutbacks have affected nearly every low-income housing assistance program important to state and local plans to end homelessness. CDBG, HOME, and public housing have been hit the hardest, with their funding declining by 20 percent, 16 percent, and 11 percent, respectively, from 2004 to 2006. Yet the Housing Choice Voucher Program and most other HUD programs have suffered losses as well. The result has been a noticeable reduction in housing assistance resources available to local communities, including the loss of more than 150,000 housing vouchers since 2004.It gets worse. These cuts come at a time when funding must actually increase to effectively level fund existing program. The federal government simply can’t shovel money to the rich through tax breaks and pork, wage the most expensive war in US history, and mitigate the fallout from capitalism run amok all at the same time. Something has to give, and unless people push back hard, it’s not going to be the giveaways to the wealthy.
Yet things are far from hopeless. The resources are there to take care of human needs if we can re-assess the priorities that drive national policy.
Meeting the housing needs of low-income families in the face of the long-term fiscal problems the nation faces will be a challenging task. Doing so will require placing all of the budget — including tax cuts, special-interest tax breaks, and various spending programs that are protected by powerful constituencies — on the table, and reaching bipartisan agreement on a balanced mix of reductions in projected spending and increases in revenues. Doing so also will require adherence to a principle espoused by David Stockman, President Reagan’s first budget director, in the 1980s: Mr. Stockman said that when seeking to reduce the deficit, policymakers should go after “weak claims” that have been made on the federal Treasury, including weak claims made by powerful interests and constituencies, rather than politically “weak clients.” Those who are weak politically include the low-income families assisted by the federal housing programs.This should not be news to anyone. Absent a grassroots movement to push for more progressive tax policy and greater corporate responsibility, efforts to end homelessness will ultimately shrivel up and die under the onslaught of greater inequality and the diminished federal capacity to mitigate the wreckage.
Presently, more than three federal dollars go the the middle class and affluent in the form of housing-related tax breaks for every one dollar that goes to low-income housing. This trend is likely to be exacerbated in coming years as the feds scramble to pump up the housing market in response to the unraveling of the mortgage industry.
For the full reports, see CUTS IN FEDERAL HOUSING ASSISTANCE ARE UNDERMINING COMMUNITY PLANS TO END HOMELESSNESS, and THE EFFECTS OF THE FEDERAL BUDGET SQUEEZE ON LOW-INCOME HOUSING ASSISTANCE at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.