If we look at federal appropriations for affordable housing, it’s clear that we need to fight for higher overall funding, not just advocate for specific programs. The hole created by unrelenting housing need is too big for a piecemeal approach. Just like in Jaws, let’s agree that we need a bigger boat. Looking at the numbers makes this very clear:
- Most of HUD’s funding renews housing assistance to current recipients. That’s public housing, project-based Section 8, and current voucher holders. In recent years, just those renewals have consumed 80% to 85% of HUD’s budget, and even they have been squeezed. Public housing has not had sufficient capital funds for many years, project-based contracts have started doing some less-than-full-year renewals, and voucher portfolios shrank significantly under sequestration.
- When funding drops, everything else gets squeezed, especially HOME and CDBG. The remainder of HUD’s budget is mostly the block grants: HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) and Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). All other HUD programs are small in comparison. Over the last several years, HOME has dropped to just $1 billion, about half of what it was at its height, and CDBG is 16% below what it was in 2001 (yes, more than a decade ago). So if something has to give, it’s block grant funding.
This waterfall—from existing recipients to block grants and everything else—comes from harsh political reality. No member of Congress wants a headline saying they’ve cut funding and kicked someone out of their home. Headlines about not funding new properties, shelters, or families are simply easier to handle.
So, we need a bigger boat, a larger allocation to the appropriations subcommittee that handles both housing and transportation, so that they can fund existing recipients and new assistance. The only way to accomplish that is with a big coalition, so I urge you to join the Campaign for Housing and Community Development Funding. Read the coalition letter and then sign the letter. Advocacy for individual programs can and should happen, but first let’s make the allocation as large as possible. It’s our best shot to stay afloat.