Seattle Housing Authority responds to president’s 2019 federal budget proposal
February 13, 2018
The president has just released a proposed 2019 federal budget that would reduce funding to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by 18.3 percent, which is $8.8 billion. The cuts would have devastating impacts to housing and services for people with low incomes in Seattle and across the country. Cuts of this nature would be cruel to children, seniors, veterans, struggling families and others who do not make enough to meet basic needs without some form of assistance. For many of these vulnerable people, public housing and housing vouchers are the most important safety net they have – their only option for a safe, stable place to live that keeps them from being homeless. When we undermine these members of our communities, we not only hurt them, we put the health and vitality of entire communities at risk.
This 2019 budget proposal goes even further than a 13 percent, $6 billion cut the president put forward last year for the 2018 budget. Fortunately, last year Congress maintained funding for HUD at close to previous levels. The Seattle Housing Authority thanks U.S. Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, U.S. Representatives Adam Smith and Pramila Jayapal, and others in Congress who understand the real and tragic impacts that severe cuts to federal funding for housing and services would have. We again look to their wisdom and leadership to help avert significant cuts and enact a responsible 2019 federal budget.
If the president’s 2019 proposal is not overridden by Congress, SHA, whose current annual capital and operating budget is $218 million, would receive $27.5 million less to provide housing and services to people in Seattle with limited means. That amount is 57 percent of the annual cost of maintaining SHA’s 8,000 residences, home to more than 15,000 people; the annual equivalent of 2,766 rental assistance vouchers, providing affordable housing for more than 5,533 people with private landlords and other housing providers; and more than four times the entire combined SHA budget for youth tutoring, job training and employment, health related services and support for aging residents.
The proposed budget literally eliminates the Public Housing Capital Fund, vital to maintaining existing public housing. Nationally, there is a huge backlog in public housing capital needs and SHA is no exception. The elimination of capital support alone means $10.4 million less that SHA has to keep its buildings in more than 360 locations throughout Seattle from falling into disrepair. In addition to zeroing out money for maintenance, the president’s budget includes proposals to begin decreasing the federal “footprint” in housing by “releasing” assets to state and local government and the private sector. This signals a strategy by the administration to withdraw from federal funding for housing, leaving it to local jurisdictions that have no money to support it.
These are not just abstract numbers. They represent real people, coping with significant hardships. People like Keshia, a young mother who completed a rigorous construction training course, graduated at the top of her class and got a job helping to build Seattle’s new downtown traffic tunnel. As Keshia put it “When you have a strong foundation in life, you are able to build and create other opportunities. I want to be the person that creates the foundation for others to build upon.” And people like Marvin, whose mental health issues as a youth led to decades of homelessness and substance abuse. When Marvin became determined to change that dead-end path, he was able to get the housing and help that made sobriety and a life transition possible. As Marvin, who holds a steady job and is a consummate volunteer, said “I’m helping not just the homeless but anybody who needs help. I can do that because it was given to me.”
Keshia and Marvin have jobs, as do 65 percent of working-age, non-disabled households at SHA. But working is not an option for nearly 70 percent of SHA tenants who are children, elderly and people with disabilities. The average income for the elderly and disabled served by SHA is only $11,000 per year. Many have been hard-working individuals, wiped out by a catastrophic medical condition or other circumstance. They are on fixed incomes of shrinking value and do not have any opportunities available to change that. We cannot abandon our children, elderly and people with disabilities to homelessness and hunger.
The president’s 2019 proposed budget alludes to other changes that, if enacted, would affect SHA and its tenants, but no specifics are provided. One proposal would raise the percentage of rent households pay from 30 to 35 percent of income, and another would instate work requirements for tenants. A separate letter to Congress from the administration, sent after publication of the president’s budget proposal, suggests putting $2 billion back into HUD’s budget to, among other things, exempt elderly and disabled from the rent increases. But the process for considering this after-the-fact proposal is unclear. Without further detail behind these various statements in and subsequent to the proposal, it’s difficult for SHA to analyze them, but we will be closely monitoring these provisions to determine their potential impacts.
SHA is concerned not only about direct impact to our programs, but is worried about erosion of a network of supports to help people in need in our country. The 2019 proposed budget reduces funding for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which many families rely on to feed their children and meet basic needs. It discontinues the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative and HOPE VI program, which contributed to the redevelopment of Yesler Terrace, High Point, NewHolly, Rainier Vista and Lake City Court, and helped fund educational, employment, health and other programs that have enabled families to succeed in these communities. The budget proposes to eliminate the Community Development Block Grant program, which funds critical services in our city and region such as homeless shelters and development of additional affordable housing.
The Seattle Housing Authority will not give up the fight for decency and dignity for those struggling to get by on limited means. On behalf of Keshia, Marvin and the thousands of other individuals and families we serve, each with unique stories of adversities and personal strengths, we strongly oppose the president’s proposed budget. We are grateful for the allies who continue to stand with us in the effort to preserve essential federal funding to house and provide for those in our nation who need our help.
SHA Executive Director