Word is leaking out that America’s safety net could be shredded — rolling back years of progress toward ending homelessness, reducing crime and eliminating healthcare inequities. It is startling to see the cost-effective initiatives reportedly targeted for the ax by the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
Many of these programs have proven their worth for decades so it is now up to Secretary Ben Carson and other agency heads within the Trump Administration, and to the Congress, to recognize that what is being proposed crosses over into the realm of “penny wise and pound foolish.”
Reputable sources are reporting that OMB Director Mick Mulvaney will propose slashing the budget for affordable housing and community development by as much as $6 billion. What is so unrealistic about this 14% cut is that there is currently a shortage of 7.4 million affordable homes in this country and the gap between what the poorest among us — vulnerable families, seniors and the disabled — can afford and what is available to them grows larger by the day.
Making and keeping housing affordable is critical because failure to do so leads to homelessness and more poverty, becoming an unmanageable and never-ending cycle.
When we ask for housing that people can afford, we are talking about our elderly parents, the disabled, families with children, and those who put their lives at risk defending our country and are now veterans. If we pull back on our commitments to affordable housing and them, and make no real attempt to create the millions of homes necessary to meet the growing need, they and the rest of us will suffer dearly in our pocket books.
As a Trump Cabinet member and former clinician, Dr. Carson has rightly pointed out that affordable housing is more than just a roof over the head of people or families struggling to change the trajectory of their lives. A place a person calls home directly impacts personal health and well-being. If you lack a home your health is likely to be deplorable, and that costs every one of us and federal, state and local governments a lot of money.
People in very bad health worried about where they will sleep skip preventive and regular care and end up in a succession of crises, using expensive emergency rooms, detox centers, jails, and long hospital stays to meet their medical and mental health needs. This adds up to billions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures each year. We already know it’s less expensive to house someone than to do nothing.
And while local public housing, which is a large part of our nation’s affordable housing stock, may seem like an easy target for savings, these are the only homes hundreds of thousands of our most vulnerable citizens know. This housing is also far less costly to the tax payers in many communities than attempting to subsidize market rate rentals. Reducing repairs and maintenance in such housing jeopardizes the health and safety of residents who have nowhere else to go.
There are over 1.2 million households currently residing in public housing. Seniors and persons with disabilities constitute over half of that number. 600,000+ children reside in public housing. They will bear the brunt of draconian cuts.
There’s also word that OMB will ask Congress to cut $300 million from the rental assistance that provides housing vouchers to needy families. Will our leaders in Washington who often tout the importance of families do this?
Such a drastic reduction coupled with rising rents and inflation absolutely threatens families relying on this help. It is also short sighted. Children who are homeless or living on a different relative’s couch every week don’t succeed in school or obtain the skills necessary to become valued contributors to the workforce. Even those who do not accept housing as a basic human right understand that a person or family without a home will cost us more money in healthcare expenses, public assistance and public safety costs than those who are housed.
The evidence backing this up is widely cited. The lack of housing jeopardizes the educational development of children, job prospects for adults and any chance vulnerable people have of placing themselves on a path to recovery, greater independence and economic sufficiency.
During recent testimony to the U.S. Senate, Dr. Carson said, “We need to be cognizant of our fiscal responsibilities as well as our social responsibilities. Safety net programs are important. I would never abolish one without having an alternative.” He also committed to “house as many families as possible in safe, affordable housing…and look for ways to expand affordable housing options everywhere.”
It’s time for his words to carry over into action.
It’s easy to think that advocates over reach and present worst-case scenarios whenever budgets are tightened. But what is being proposed is not a fiscal diet, it is starvation. Hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans will be hit too hard if these cuts become reality.
Voices within the Trump Administration and throughout Congress must stand up for ideas, innovations and initiatives that have proven their worth. We at CSH certainly intend to fight hard for those who are vulnerable and need our help, and will be asking you to do the same.