Conservative budget would worsen nation’s housing woes

Conservative budget would worsen nation’s housing woes

- in Progressive Voices

Every day, here at the NC Housing Coalition, we get calls from folks around the state with housing needs. They are working hard to make ends meet, but are coming up short. Some are underemployed or disabled and looking for a decent and affordable place to rest their heads at night. Some are struggling to stave off foreclosure and hold onto their life’s biggest investment. Some are just hoping for shelter so that they can avoid spending another night in a car or on the street. We do our best to connect these callers with organizations and programs that can meet their needs.

The stories we hear on a day to day basis aren’t unique. Sadly, they represent millions us, across the nation, doing what we can to stretch a dollar further and provide a safe home for our families.While affordable housing needs have long been a challenge, the problem has become more acute as a result of the Great Recession – a recession caused by predatory lending, risky financial products, and high risk, irresponsible Wall Street practices. Since the beginning of the recession in 2008, there has been a significant increase in the number of households spending more that 50% of their income on housing as incomes fell. Here in North Carolina, more than half of renter households can’t afford a two bedroom apartment.

Low- and middle-income Americans have clearly suffered most from a recession they did not cause.

Nevertheless, as our elected officials continue to work on recovery schemes, some in Washington plan to ask low-income and middle-income Americans to shoulder the entire burden of deficit reduction while simultaneously delivering massive tax breaks to the richest one percent. Recently, the US House of Representative voted to accept a budget plan proposed that does just that.

The ill-conceived plan cuts $5.3 trillion in nondefense budget cuts over ten years. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 62% of those cuts come from programs that serve our nation’s most vulnerable citizens. Housing programs serving low-income Americans would be slashed. HUD secretary Shaun Donovan has stated that under the proposed Ryan budget, more than a million households could lose their housing. This would hurt our local economies and our already fragile housing market.

Of the million-plus households at risk, Donovan estimates that 585,000 would come from the Housing Choice Voucher Program, 425,000 from the Project-Based Voucher Program, and 110-180,000 from homeless assistance programs. Donovan has also remarked that an estimated 17,000 jobs would be lost from cuts to the Community Development Block Grant, and cuts to the HOME program would mean tens of thousands of new affordable housing units would not be built.

In February, President Obama released his own budget plan. His budget does present some difficult choices with cuts proposed to some needed housing programs, but there are also important increases proposed that could bring new opportunity and needed economic vitality. While the President’s budget does not do all that is needed, it does reflect traditional American priorities – progressive taxation, a balanced approach to deficit reduction, and a directive to ensure that our nation’s people have a roof over their head and food in their bellies.

With the current political gridlock in Washington, it is unlikely that either of these budgets will pass Congress in their current form.

However, they paint two distinct pictures of America’s future: One in which we punish the victim’s of the Great Recession and increase the gap between rich and poor and another in which we hold onto traditional American values of shared prosperity, shared sacrifice, and care for our most vulnerable.

We must urge Congress to make the right choice. We must let our elected officials in Washington know that punishing low and middle income Americans for the transgressions of Wall Street is unfair and unjust. Willfully causing a million or more households to lose their homes is tragedy on and economic and social level for everyone. Americans deserve better.

Carley Ruff is the Policy and Outreach Coordinator for the NC Housing Coalition.