Three Dangers and an Opportunity

Posted by Michael Bodaken and Ellen Lurie Hoffman on February 10, 2017

If it seems like we're approaching a domestic policy pivot point, it might be because we are. Since November 9, we’ve been thinking about the near- and long-term implications of the election results, and while the future cannot be predicted, we do know that it could have severe consequences for low income communities.

Now that Donald J. Trump has been inaugurated as President and the 115th Congress has begun, in the coming months and years, a number of high stakes policy decisions will pose significant threats to core affordable housing and community development programs, while others could create opportunities to expand much-needed resources. A few specific policy debates on the horizon include:

Corporate tax reform could either eliminate the Low Income Housing Tax Credit or significantly reduce investor demand for it by lowering corporate tax rates. Either scenario would make it much more difficult for private investment capital to flow to low-income neighborhoods. We must demand that Congress and the administration prioritize the Housing Credit as they consider reforms to the nation’s tax code and investments in infrastructure. The Housing Credit and tax-exempt housing bonds should be held up as positive examples of the power of the tax code to improve communities. We need to mobilize communities to tell Congress to expand and strengthen the Housing Credit to increase the availability of safe and affordable housing and revitalize local economies.

Budget negotiations could result in drastic reductions in funding for key federal affordable housing programs, like project-based rental assistance (PBRA), Housing Choice Vouchers, the HOME program, and Community Development Block Grants, all of which are already drastically underfunded today.

The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 is set to expire this year, which means that sequestration caps will return. Recently, President Trump spoke about eliminating parity by lifting the spending caps for defense programs, which would place the full weight of budget limitations on non-defense expenditures. Moreover, he proposed cutting non-defense spending by an additional one percent each year for the next 10 years. These proposals could devastate housing programs, significantly increasing poverty and homelessness in America. 

We need to mount a grassroots mobilization effort to educate Congress about the devastating impacts of cutting domestic programs and urge them to raise the spending caps and maintain parity between defense and non-defense programs. Residents and stakeholders need to urge Congress not to short-fund PBRA, and to oppose cuts to vouchers, HOME and CDBG. As Michael Moore urged hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on January 21, everyone should be calling their members of Congress every day.

Implementation of HUD’s Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) rule has been publicly opposed by a number of prominent Republicans, including President Trump’s nominee for HUD Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson. At his confirmation hearing, Dr. Carson declined to affirm that he intends to maintain the rule, and we believe he will seek to dismantle or at least stall its implementation. We must educate Congress and Dr. Carson about the value of local states and communities using data and evidence to analyze housing needs and set goals for fair and affordable housing through the AFFH process.

A broad infrastructure package has the potential for massive investments in a number of major ‘traditional’ infrastructure projects, and could – and arguably should – include capital investments in affordable housing and federal incentives to revitalize areas of concentrated poverty. It is worth noting, however, that Trump’s infrastructure plan relies on requiring the American taxpayer to shoulder 40 percent of the upfront risk of the investment, does not include any housing or community development provisions, and fails to explicitly target any investments to long-neglected cities in a manner that benefits the residents of affected communities. Congress and the Trump Administration must be educated to understand the jobs and economic benefits created by investing in sustainable, energy efficient affordable housing.

We all know the far-reaching benefits of affordable housing, and on January 21 we joined 2.7 million Americans across the country to rally for equity, justice, and civil rights. We pledge to connect our values with the basic right to live in decent, affordable housing and urge you—our colleagues—to do the same by calling your Members of Congress and inviting them to visit affordable housing in your community.

(Image: Mobilus in Mobili, via flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

About the author more ยป

Michael Bodaken is President of the National Housing Trust and of the National Housing Community Development Fund, NHTCDF. Ellen Lurie Hoffman is federal policy director of the National Housing Trust.

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