Monday, December 8, 2008

Dreaming Big With Obama

The Western Regional Advocacy Project, of which Real Change is a proud member, sent this off recently to the Obama transition team. My capacity for hope is still tempered by twenty-eight years of well-earned political cynicism, so I'm not holding my breath. Still, it's good to ask. It all seems pretty reasonable to me.

WRAP is an organization of seven West Coast community groups with, on average, 15 years of service in their communities. In 2006 we formed this organization to serve as a vehicle to bring our collective voices to Washington DC. Toward that end I present to you the following paper we prepared for a congressional staff briefing hosted by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office after the release of our report entitled Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness and Policy Failures. Since its release we have documented over 25,000 downloads from our website and have distributed our full print run of 3,000 hard copies. The full report (and accompanying artwork) is available on our website for your perusal.

One key recommendation we recently added to this paper is to ensure that affordable housing development is included as part of any economic stimulus proposal. We want to express that at the local level we are hearing a strong call for affordable housing and the proposed economic stimulus package is an ideal opportunity to address the housing and economic crises simultaneously. We can supply you with several examples of Community Housing Developers that have done an incredible job of community development as part of their housing development work -- through local hiring and training, small business generation, use of green technology, and of course paying a living wage to their workforce.

Our briefing paper follows and should you have any questions please do not hesitate to call at the number listed above. WRAP members are also available to meet with you to provide more detailed recommendations and input. We all are truly looking forward to a new day and a new relationship with OUR federal government!!

Paul Boden

Without Housing: Decades of Federal Housing Cutbacks, Massive Homelessness, and Policy Failures, written and published by WRAP, documents the direct correlation between homelessness and the massive cuts to HUD and USDA affordable housing programs that began in 1979 and continue today.

The report shows why, after 20 years, the McKinney Act has had no substantial impact on ending homelessness. It shows how the failed policy of having local communities write 5 and 10 year plans to “end” homelessness has pitted them against each other for the miniscule amount of McKinney funding and has shifted the focus away from the lack of funding for affordable housing.
  • Between 1978 and 1983 HUD budget authority shrank from $83 billion to little more than $18 billion (in 2004 constant dollars) and has never been more than $30 billion since then (chart 3).
  • In 1983 local governments across America began opening “temporary” shelters in response to the emerging numbers of people who had become homeless in their communities.
  • The impact of federal cuts to affordable housing programs has been drastic. In 1976, for example, HUD maintained 213,742 existing housing units and built an additional 203,046 to keep up with a growing population. In 2002, HUD maintained only 25,900 existing units and built only 7635 new ones (chart 1).
  • HUD funding for new public housing units – the safety net for the poorest among us – has been zero since 1996 (chart 4), while more than 100,000 existing units of public housing have been lost in that same period.
  • From 1976-1985 a yearly average of almost 31,000 new Section 515 rural affordable housing units were built, but from 1986-2005 the average yearly production was 8170, a 74 percent reduction (chart 2).
  • In 1987 the federal government responded to the growing crisis of homelessness with the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, but McKinney funding has never been more than $1.4 billion (chart 3).

McKinney homeless assistance programs have increasingly become a “catch-all” system for people who once were provided for by other mainstream federal government programs. Without Housing documents this trend regarding cuts to HUD and USDA, but it also holds true for domestic violence victims who used to depend on Department of Justice funding, for veterans who depended on the VA for housing and treatment, and for disabled people who depended on HHS funded residential and community-based treatment programs.

The original intent of McKinney to provide funding for communities “facing an immediate and unprecedented crisis due to the lack of shelter for a growing number of people” has become unrealistic because the federal government continues to create homelessness with cuts to legitimate housing and treatment programs.

There are approximately 470 Continuum of Care Boards and more than 290 “Ten-Year Plan to End Chronic Homelessness” Councils across America, with over 400 10 year plans. Many communities have both, and all are competing for a share of the same $1.4 billion of McKinney funding.

The most surprising aspect of mass homelessness is not that it was created by cuts to affordable housing. It is that the federal government spends more on housing subsidies today than it ever has, but these subsidies overwhelmingly benefit the private housing sector. Federal tax expenditures on home ownership in 2005 were $122 billion, while total HUD outlays were $31 billion – a difference of $91 billion (charts 7 and 8).


WRAP – along with hundreds of other groups – wants the funding of federal affordable housing programs restored to comparable 1978 levels. We all share this goal, and these recommendations are presented to you as steps needed to get us there.

1) Include affordable housing development as part of any economic stimulus proposal.

2) Reject all current and future proposals to reduce funding for affordable housing, and prioritize access to housing for the poorest among us.

3) Ensure that funding cuts to federal mainstream programs don’t push more people into homelessness; local homeless planning boards should monitor the effects of these federal cuts and report on them in their McKinney applications. McKinney assistance should not be considered a catchall for beneficiaries of other programs after those programs have been cut.

4) Consider the full scope of federal housing subsidies and take action to balance the disparity between housing subsidies for wealthy people and for poor people. We refer you to: the President’s Advisory Panel on Federal Tax Reform report, Simple, Fair, and Pro-Growth (2005); National Low Income Housing Coalition’s report, Changing Priorities: The Federal Budget and Housing Assistance 1976 – 2005 (2004); and the report of the Bipartisan Millennial Housing Commission, Meeting Our Nation’s Housing Challenges (2002). These reports have specific and consistent recommendations about this issue.

5) Ensure that the more than 688,000 homeless children in our public school systems are fully integrated with their housed peers, are provided support to succeed in school, and have homes in which to grow and thrive.

6) Monitor HUD’s use of regulatory language and NOFAs that reprioritize and change the legislative intent of homeless assistance funding, and hold the Secretary of HUD accountable.

McKinney-Vento homeless assistance funding is a vital program for addressing the immediate suffering of homeless people, but if we – as a nation – want to end homelessness, we must do much more.


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