Local leaders vowed a fierce fight to protect the long-established Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program.
They are taking their stand as the 43-year-old program, which is used by communities to create affordable housing and revitalize neighborhoods, is targeted for elimination under the Trump administration’s budget proposal.
“At a time when many Americans are still struggling to make ends meet, these budget cuts would be a disaster,” said Setti Warren, mayor of Newton, Mass.
He and other mayors spoke out on the importance of the CDBG program to their communities Wednesday during National Community Development Week.
“Simply put, the president’s budget proposal to eliminate CDBG and HOME would make our cities less safe, less healthy, and more expensive to live in,” Warren said.
Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget blueprint slashes funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development by $6.2 billion, or 13.2% from current levels, with the agency receiving $40.7 billion in gross discretionary funding. The proposal seeks to eliminate the approximately $3 billion CDBG program as well as the approximately $1 billion HOME program.
“The president’s proposal is unacceptable,” said Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, S.C. “These cuts proposed by the administration would not reduce the federal budget deficit, but they would hamstring local community development and all of our workforce housing efforts when our cities and citizens can least afford it.”
The elimination of CDBG could cripple the redevelopment of the deteriorating Gonzales Gardens public housing project in Columbia, he said.
Officials and their partners have been working on redeveloping the property into a mixed-income, mixed-use neighborhood. The revitalization effort has a significant CDBG component to it, according to Benjamin.
Roy Charles Brooks, Tarrant County (Texas) commissioner and first vice president of the National Association of Counties, called CDBG the “No. 1 funding source” for replacing deteriorating infrastructure in his county’s older residential areas and a key funding source for housing programs.
“Our country is facing an affordable housing crisis as well as deteriorating infrastructure,” he said. “For every 100 households in Tarrant County seeking affordable housing options, there are only 19 affordable units to be had.”
Overall, the CDBG program provides funding to 1,200 states, territories, and local governments, according to Bonnie Moore, director of the community development department in Shreveport, La., and president of the National Community Development Association.
Approximately half of Shreveport’s $1.6 million in CDBG funds go toward affordable housing, said Moore, noting that the city has a poverty rate of about 22%. “Affordable housing is one of the tools to reduce poverty in our community,” she said.
The funding stretches across the country. New York City receives approximately $151 million in CDBG funds; Albuquerque, N.M., gets $3.8 million; and Nashville, Tenn., gets $4.7 million, said Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
“This is not small change,” he said. “This is a program that’s been infused in the local government since 1974. It would cause great devastation to city budgets as we have worked to come out of the greatest recession since the Great Depression.”
The conference assembled the local leaders for a conference call with reporters.
Mayor Brian Wahler of Piscataway, N.J., added that CDBG funds help his city to supplement the regional Meals on Wheels program. His point is that the CDBG has been an extremely flexible tool for local communities to target their unique needs.
Potential cuts to the popular Meals on Wheels program drew much media attention when initially announced.
Although CDBG has received strong bipartisan support over the years, the officials said they are taking no chances.
They are calling on the administration and Congress to reject the proposed cuts and at least maintain funding at current levels, citing that funding for CDBG has decreased by about $1.4 billion since 2001.
Brooks said CDBG may have been targeted in the budget proposal because it’s size.
“What we’re doing today is to try to say to the Congress and to the administration that yes this is a large number, but it creates large benefits for communities across this country,” he said. “In putting together the budget, perhaps they should use a scalpel instead of a meat-ax.”