Tuesday, February 3, 2015

How to save your housing program during budget battles

What we're building 
by Ethan Handelman, National Housing Conference

When budget battles arise, many housing practitioners I talk with worry about the one or two housing programs they work with on a regular basis. Maybe it’s HUD-VASH for folks helping veterans find housing, or project-based Section 8 for owners of assisted properties or rural rental assistance for people operating smaller rural properties. Regardless of the particular programs, housers can be laser-focused on their areas of expertise. In the budget battle this year, however, the only way for housing to win is if we all think big and join together early and strongly.

President Obama’s budget proposal, released on Monday, advocates for replacing the sequestration budget caps, generating revenue and making new investments aimed at the middle class. Strategically, that’s a reasonable move, since the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to take this budget as a starting point. There’s simply no advantage to the president in proposing painful cuts. Even amidst that approach, however, the budget makes only small changes to an overall tight picture for housing programs.

Some illustrations of the positive but ultimately small proposed positive changes:

  • Increasing the HOME program just above $1 billion, but with parallel cut to CDBG.
  • Increasing housing counseling funds, but without any mention of the Homeowners Armed with Knowledge initiative.
  • Restoring Housing Choice vouchers lost during sequestration, including some targeted to families and veterans.

What will make the difference for the housing program you care about? A bigger top-line appropriations number. Once each subcommittee that handles housing gets its allocation (called a 302b number), there is little room to adjust allocations to individual programs. Last year, about 85 percent of HUD’s budget went to renew existing assistance through project-based rental assistance, public housing and Housing Choice Vouchers. Everything else fit into the remainder, with the HOME and CDBG block grants being the largest remaining pieces by far. It’s no surprise both block grants have seen multiple cuts in recent years and other production programs like Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly and Section 811 Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities have shrunk to be entirely reliant on the Low Income Housing Tax Credit.

Over the coming weeks, NHC and many other national groups will advocate for a larger 302b allocation for the housing and transportation subcommittees. It’ll be a major theme at our Budget Forum webinar on Feb. 19, too. When you hear the call to action, join in! What it means is more room for the programs you rely on to help people and communities thrive.

No comments: