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PRICE OPENING STATEMENT AT T-HUD HEARING WITH SECRETARY CARSON

June 8, 2017
Press Release

Washington – Congressman David E. Price (NC-04), Ranking Member of the Transportation-Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following opening statement at a subcommittee hearing with HUD Secretary Ben Carson.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I would like to join you in welcoming the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Ben Carson. 

For years, nearly all of HUD’s affordable housing and community development programs have been underfunded compared to demonstrated need.  These programs serve some of the most vulnerable people in our society—the elderly, the disabled, children, veterans, and single parents trying to make ends meet.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that America—the most prosperous nation in the world—is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis.  More and more families are struggling to pay rent.  Meanwhile, only one of four people eligible for federal rental assistance can actually receive it due to funding constraints.  This is not a reality that any of us should be comfortable with.  In fact, it should force us to ask tough questions about our values and priorities. 

Unfortunately, the Department’s FY 2018 budget request before us today would make these daunting problems even worse.  The request includes $36.3 billion in funding offset by $9.5 billion in receipts.  The total budget authority provided in the request would be lower than last year’s level by approximately $7.4 billion, or nearly 17 percent.

Since more than three-quarters of HUD’s budget is devoted toward simply maintaining current residents in housing, cuts of this magnitude disproportionately impact community development grants and other targeted housing programs.

For example, Community Development Block Grants, a flexible source of funding for hundreds of urban and rural communities to help meet the needs of low and moderate income people, would be completely eliminated.  The HOME program, which is the largest federal block grant to state and local governments designed exclusively to produce affordable housing for low-income families, would also be eliminated. My colleagues and I have heard from hundreds of local elected officials and housing practitioners that these programs play a critical role in helping them address affordable housing shortages and other pressing community needs.

Mr. Secretary, in your Senate confirmation hearing you spoke about addressing housing instability and poverty in a “comprehensive” manner, including providing greater access to health care and economic opportunity.  These are goals we certainly both share, but the proposed budget fails to advance this vision in any meaningful way. 

It’s especially troubling that your budget would eliminate the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative.  This program helps transform aging public housing developments into vibrant mixed-income communities, and it leverages non-federal funding to promote small business and bring other services into the community.  If this isn’t a comprehensive approach, I don’t know what is.

Even the Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program (SHOP) and Section 4 Capacity Building would be zeroed out.  SHOP is used by Habitat for Humanity and other reputable nonprofits to help create affordable homes for low-income people using the “sweat equity” model, while Section 4 helps expand their capabilities and technical expertise. 

Finally, the National Housing Trust Fund, which doesn’t even constitute discretionary budget authority, would be eliminated.  This is a real head scratcher, since these mandatory funds are derived from contributions by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.  The Housing Trust Fund has only recently been tapped by the states, but already it is being used to finance the development, rehabilitation, and preservation of affordable housing for low-income people.

These sweeping program eliminations, I must say, fail to demonstrate the surgical precision we might expect from you. They are the equivalent of taking a meat axe to the HUD budget, which has already faced steep reductions in recent years.  The budget request says that state and local governments should pick up the slack, but how?  Frankly, this is unacceptable.

I haven’t even touched on the numerous reductions proposed in the budget:

·         Tenant Based Section 8 is cut by 5 percent, which could force as many as 265,000 people nationwide back onto the streets

·         Public housing is cut across the board, including a massive two-thirds cut to the capital fund

·         HOPWA is cut by 7 percent

·         Homeless Assistance Grants are cut by nearly 6 percent

·         Housing Counseling is cut by nearly 15 percent

The list goes on.  Without sustained increases in funding commensurate with need, people will lose housing and the supportive services that they rely upon.

I’d also like to register my serious concerns with the Department’s so-called rent “reforms” which would essentially shift HUD program costs onto residents.  Raising minimum rents, eliminating utility allowance reimbursements, and ending higher payments for new enhanced vouchers could have serious repercussions for the people who rely on housing assistance.  These changes are best left to the consideration of the authorizing committees.  Further, the decision to first roll out these reforms in Project-based Rental Assistance along with  the 202 and 811 programs—which serve vulnerable elderly and disabled individuals—seems counterintuitive at best and ill-considered at worst.

As I said up front, the current state of housing in America should force us to ask tough questions. Unfortunately, looking at this budget proposal unsettling questions come to mind. Does this Administration even care about the most vulnerable amongst us? Have you been appointed only to preside over the demise of HUD?

Finally, before I close, I want to remind my colleagues that although it’s the beginning of June, we still have no budget resolution, no top-line spending number, no subcommittee allocations, and the debt limit is rapidly approaching.  Without another bipartisan budget deal, we will also be forced to cope with the devastating return of sequestration.  In past years, we know this has been a recipe for disaster and we saw the appropriations process completely break down in Committee and even on the House floor. 

Mr. Secretary, I look forward to hearing your testimony today and working with you to ensure that vital housing and community development programs remain adequately funded. 

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