Surprise funding cuts from the Trump administration will hit poor New York City residents hard

Trump’s surprise cuts will only make things worse in a city that already has a housing crisis.

New York City residents outside the Brownsville Houses public housing projects. AP Photo/Kathy Willens
New York City residents outside the Brownsville Houses public housing projects. AP Photo/Kathy Willens

In a surprise move, New York City’s public housing authority received a letter from the Trump administration last week informing it that its federal funding will be cut by millions this year, the largest decrease in five years.

It’s the first wave of potential funding cuts to hit New York City, which has declared itself a sanctuary city. President Trump has already signed an executive order saying that he will strip such cities, which have said they will refuse to have their police enforce deportation and immigration orders, of federal funding.

And the cuts are about to take a huge toll on low-income city residents.

The letter from the federal government said that aid to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) would be cut by 5 percent. Three streams will be reduced: money to operate public housing, money to operate the Section 8 rental voucher program, and money that actually funds those vouchers. The reductions will leave the agency with a $35 million shortfall.

To deal with the cuts, NYCHA Chair Shola Olatoye said on Monday that service will have to be reduced, particularly in maintenance and repairs for public housing, and the agency will have to consider reducing how many families get rental vouchers and how much rent each voucher will cover. She also vowed that “we will fight any and all cuts” by lobbying the White House.

NYCHA already has a backlog of $17 billion in needed repairs to its public housing buildings, many of which are a half-century old, including problems with mold, leaky roofs, and broken boilers. “We already have a huge crisis in New York City,” said Judith Goldiner, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society. With this cut, even less will get done. “It means…fewer people going out to repair apartments, fewer repairs to apartments.”

That of course means poor or even dangerous living conditions for residents, many of whom are transitioning out of homelessness. “That’s going to further lower the quality of life,” said Tori Lyon, CEO of the Jericho Project, an advocacy organization for homeless veterans. “Families who already have been traumatized and are vulnerable [who have] finally gotten housing that’s affordable…now are possibly faced with having poor quality.”

But even worse, it can mean that precious public housing units, of which there are never enough to meet the demand for affordable housing, disappear. “We’ll see them moving apartments that they just can’t keep up offline and eventually take buildings offline if they can’t keep them up,” Goldiner said.

New York’s rental market is the second-most expensive in the country, with median rent for a one-bedroom costing nearly $3,000 a month, and it has an incredibly low vacancy rate, making it difficult to even find an available place to live.

The cuts to Section 8 vouchers will hurt renters in other ways. The city has already lost about 6,000 vouchers through attrition over the last four years, Goldiner said. “That’s 6,000 families that can’t afford their rent or are living in the homeless shelter system,” she said. That process was expected to continue anyway.

But now it will be sped up. In testimony before the city council on Monday, agency officials said they expect to lose another 4,000 vouchers to deal with the cuts through attrition, refusing to reissue them when families no longer need them. That’s another 4,000 families without the rental assistance they would otherwise qualify for.

Another way the agency may deal with the cuts is to reduce how much rent each voucher covers, putting low-income tenants on the hook to come up with the new difference each month. “That’s a pretty painful thing for people,” Goldiner said. Having to suddenly pay hundreds more dollars in rent is just not possible for many people.

And with money cutting into NYCHA’s Section 8 operating budget, low-income residents may go without vouchers thanks purely to a slower bureaucratic machine. “We could have Section 8 vouchers going unused because it takes so long and there are not enough people there to administer it,” Lyon said. “Even more tragically, we could have homeless people and homeless veterans staying on the streets even if they have a voucher because it takes so long” to finish the process.

The city is braced for even more funding cuts on top of these. In a preliminary draft of Trump’s budget obtained by the Washington Post, set to be released publicly later this week, the administration is contemplating more than $6 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which gives agencies like NYCHA much of their funding. “NYCHA must brace for cuts,” Olatoye said on Monday, “because HUD is as uncertain as we are of what’s to come.”