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What the federal budget deal means for affordable housing

Rental-assistance programs and public housing see increased funding

NYC skyline Corbis via Getty Images

Months of political gamesmanship over the federal government’s budget came to an end Friday when President Trump signed a bipartisan compromise that will keep the government open through the rest of the year.

The issue at the core of the impasse—a barrier wall along the southern border—has yet to be resolved as Trump declares a national emergency to obtain funds for it. But the budget deal ends a period of alarm and uncertainty for people who rely on federal assistance to pay for housing, and in fact gives the programs that provide that assistance a funding boost.

For 2019, tenant-based rental assistance, including Section 8 rental vouchers, got a 2.65 percent increase in funding to $22.5 billion. Project-based rental assistance got a 1 percent increase to $11.7 billion.

The public housing capital fund—which is used to make repairs and improvements on public housing units—saw a modest increase of $25 million in funding to $2.7 billion. Likewise, the public housing operating fund got a 2.26 percent increase in funding to $4.6 billion. Given that the funding increases are modest, it’s unlikely they will go toward any new initiatives.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, most of the housing programs operated by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) got slight funding increases. Among the programs that received modest budget cuts are housing for persons with disabilities and Section 521 rental assistance, which aids rural areas of the country.

The slight increases in funding are a sigh of relief for affordable housing advocates as HUD’s budget had been slated for drastic cuts by the Trump administration in previous budget requests since Trump took office in 2017.

For 2019, Trump’s budget request cut numerous programs in their entirety, including the popular block grant programs such as community development block grants (CDBG), Native American housing block grants, and the HOME Investment Partnership program, which provides grants to state and local governments to aid low-income housing. Similar cuts were proposed in 2017 and 2018.

But all three years the proposed cuts were shot down in Congress, where many members represent communities that depend on federal housing assistance and community development grants. Trump eventually signed the budget each time and has taken heat from hard-line conservatives for doing so.

The budget deal brings some peace of mind to those who rely on federal aid for housing after the government shutdown in December and January put them at risk of not being able to pay their rent in full, and, at worst, face the prospect of eviction. While it’s unclear how many were actually at risk of losing their homes, the shutdown caused panic among those who receive aid, and there were reports of eviction threats from landlords who house low-income tenants.