Carefully masked in bureaucratic lingo, Trump’s housing budget is a plan to make millions homeless

Evictions by another name.

Kids in an apartment at the Leroy McBride Project complex in Cairo, Illinois, in 2007. (CREDIT: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)
Kids in an apartment at the Leroy McBride Project complex in Cairo, Illinois, in 2007. (CREDIT: Kuni Takahashi/Getty Images)

Hundreds of thousands of poor families would be evicted from their homes under President Donald Trump’s budget plan, while those who manage not to get booted onto the street would see their already dire housing conditions deteriorate further.

The proposal renews Trump’s call to slash funding for Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers, though it does a bit more to conceal the impact of the cuts than the White House did in last year’s budget.

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This year’s document proposes a billion dollars more in voucher money than last year’s. But the $18.6 billion Trump is offering now is still at least $900 million below what the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) projects it would need just to keep everyone currently receiving the rental assistance subsidies enrolled in the program through the current 2018 fiscal year and nearly $2 billion below that same maintenance level of funding for FY2019, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).

If HUD had to make do with the funding Trump calls for in the new budget, it would kick 200,000 families out of the Section 8 system. Given the very low incomes on which such families must make do, a canceled voucher is effectively a recipe for homelessness.

Tens or hundreds of thousands more families would be de facto evicted by another change Trump re-proposed from last year’s budget that would drastically raise the share of rent subsidized tenants are required to pay and set a minimum monthly tenant rent payment of $150 regardless of income. CBPP estimates that 1.8 million families would see their rents jump by a combined $2 billion a year or $93 per family per month on average, analyst Will Fischer said in an email. Families trying to eat, pay for childcare, and commute to work on an income below the poverty line don’t have that kind of slack, and many would likely end up on the street.

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Those Trump wouldn’t evict from HUD’s grid of affordable housing offerings wouldn’t exactly be sitting pretty. His new budget would also cut public housing funds in half even in raw-dollar terms from last year’s levels.

As with the Section 8 cut, Trump’s budget figures for public housing again understate the gravity of the choice he is making to do harm to poor families. The 2017 funding level he wants to slash by 47 percent was already woefully behind the spending required to fulfill the government’s legal obligations to the 2.2 million people who live in fully public housing units.

Project housing is never particularly cozy even in the best of times, of course, but the chronic underfunding of HUD’s public housing system has left it outright decrepit. Way back in 2010, the agency reported that systems nationwide needed $21 billion in repairs. Almost none of that needed funding has materialized since, leaving the apartments that HUD tenants sleep, eat, and dress for work in to crumble into further disrepair.

Now, Trump’s budget calls for zeroing out the capital funding portion of the public housing budget entirely.

“Capital funding has been underfunded every year over the last decade, and one effect of that is agencies are forced to delay certain kinds of repairs and maintenance,” CBPP’s Doug Rice told ThinkProgress. “For some kinds of repairs, if you delay them they become more costly to address later. If you have a leaky roof and you don’t have the funds to fix it, you end up with water damage underneath that is a lot more costly to repair.”

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That’s exactly what’s happening in public housing systems around the country. In Cairo, Illinois, the public housing buildings of the McBride and Elmwood complexes have gone unrepaired for so long that HUD declared them uninhabitable a couple years back. Secretary Ben Carson told residents he’d find some way to save them from outright eviction during a visit last year, without specifying how. Six months later, his boss is putting out a plan to give up on places like McBride and Elmwood entirely — and ensure more complexes that are merely substandard today will become similarly unfit for human life in the near future.

Taken together, the budget’s housing provisions suggest a sweeping pullback from Roosevelt-era legal commitments to house the destitute, Rice said.

“This budget includes language that makes clear their intent is to abdicate federal responsibility in public housing,” Rice said. “They’re just going to dump this on the states. The way they see it, it’s going to be a state and local responsibility going forward and not a federal one.”

States and cities can’t afford to suddenly shoulder the entire cost of maintaining public housing systems. If Congress gives Trump and Carson what they asked for in this budget, some set of public housing agencies would inevitably go bust. That appears to be the plan, Rice said, pointing to budget language that sets aside between $300 and $600 million to manage the collapsing system’s bankruptcies.