President Donald Trump’s proposed budget will put more Americans at risk of homelessness, experts warn.

In his fiscal 2018 spending plan, Trump calls for major cuts to long-standing housing programs, including tenant-based rental assistance, public housing, and homeless assistance grants. His proposal also eliminates Community Development Block Grants (CDBGs), the HOME program, and the National Housing Trust Fund.

Mary Cunningham
Courtesy Urban Institute Mary Cunningham

It’s one of the starkest budgets that housing leaders have seen, and it would be a major setback after recent gains in reducing homelessness, especially among veterans, in many communities.

“Across the board, this budget will increase homelessness,” says Mary Cunningham, co-director of the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute. “It will increase the number of people who are struggling to pay rent, who are facing eviction.”

The proposal would have serious consequences for homelessness and housing stability among the nation’s most vulnerable, including families, seniors, veterans, and people with disabilities, according to Cunningham.

“In terms of administration budget proposals and what their impact would be on poverty overall, this is definitely the worst one that I’ve seen,” says Steve Berg, vice president of programs and policy at the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), who started working in Washington, D.C., in 1996. “On the other hand, I don’t see very much support in the Congress for this kind of massive cutting.”

Overall, the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD’s) gross discretionary budget would be slashed by about $8 billion from 2017 Continuing Resolution (CR) levels, under the administration’s proposal. The agency would have approximately $40.7 billion in gross discretionary funding, a decline from $48.7 billion in 2017. Here are some of the cuts that could increase homelessness:

· Tenant-based rental assistance/Sec. 8 Housing Choice Vouchers would be cut by $974 million to $19.3 billion. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that more than 250,000 households would lose their assistance, putting them at risk of eviction and homelessness;
· Homeless assistance grants would be reduced by $133 million to $2.3 billion. This would be a return to the fiscal 2016 level. On the surface it’s not a huge cut, but NAEH estimates that the reduction would mean about 25,000 individuals becoming or remaining homeless;
· CDBG, which was funded at $3 billion in fiscal 2017, would receive no funding. This program is used by communities to support a wide range of programs, including eviction prevention and rapid rehousing;
· The public housing capital fund would be cut by $1.3 billion to $628 million; and
· The public housing operating fund would be cut by $500 million to $3.9 billion.

“The overall magnitude of the cuts at HUD was pretty striking,” Berg says. “… We’re concerned about the Housing Choice Voucher program. In light of rapidly increasing rents, that program needs more money in order to stay at the same level, but instead it got less money. We’re very concerned about the cuts in public housing.”

Potential cuts to HUD programs would be compounded by other reductions. Safety-net programs, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, are also proposed to be slashed.

“My biggest worry is that this administration doesn’t see that investing in housing pays huge dividends,” Cunningham says. “Housing can help reduce child poverty. It can help families stay together. We know from the evidence that it reduces food insecurity. We know that it can help chronically homeless adults with disabilities move off the street and into housing. It can keep them out of emergency room and jails.

Housing is an investment. It can improve people’s outcomes. This budget completely disregards the evidence that supports that.”

The budget is also shortsighted in that homelessness costs more money than housing people. It’s roughly $4,800 a month for emergency shelter for a family compared with about $1,200 for a housing voucher, according to Cunningham.

Interagency Council in jeopardy

In what would be another blow, Trump seeks to eliminate the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), a small agency that has a big impact, coordinating the work of multiple federal departments to focus on the goal of reducing homelessness.

“That coordination role has been an important glue to keep the efforts to end homelessness together,” Cunningham says.

USICH has had a budget of about $3.6 million. Under Trump’s request, it would receive just $570,000 to wind down operations in fiscal 2018.

“If you want to solve this problem, you need a coordinated approach,” Berg says. “The Interagency Council is what works at the federal level to coordinate the approach. In the context of the entire federal budget, it’s a tiny bit of money, but it really has been effective at helping these different agencies talk to each other.”

Dead on arrival?

Soon after the budget proposal was unveiled, some lawmakers declared that it was “dead on arrival.” Congress will draft its own budget plans that could look sharply different than Trump’s vision. Even so, concern remains.

Berg says he’s interested in seeing what comes out of Congress, “which could be negative or positive.”

How the budget turns out this year remains up in the air.

“I think we are in uncertain times,” Cunningham says. “There have been reports of Republicans and Democrats rejecting this budget. I think that’s encouraging.”

However, a compromise could still be painful. With the Trump proposal being so dramatic, anything else could look better than the administration’s initial plan but still be bad for those who rely on the federal programs, she says.