Section 8 Changes Under Trump - Part 2
Congressional Action Is the Wildcard to Specific Cuts
As draconian as the proposed cuts may seem, a proposal from the executive branch is not policy. Although the President submits a budget proposal to Congress, it's more of a wish list than a valid governing document. Congress passes the actual budget, so they will invariably move the numbers around to correspond to the legislative branch's political and policy priorities.
Luckily for proponents of housing assistance programs, President Trump's appetite for significant cuts in the HUD appropriation for 2018 is not shared by policymakers in the House and Senate. Both chambers have signaled their intention to restore much, but not all, of Trump's proposed reduction in funding. The reasoning for Congress' motivation is likely two-fold.
First, and perhaps most fundamentally, legislators are expected to look out for the interests of their home states and districts. Section 8 recipients aren't spread out equally nationwide, so members of Congress whose districts rely on federal funding for housing assistance are taking a significant political risk by signing off on budget cuts disproportionately impacting their communities.
Supporters of public housing programs are staging protests nationwide in an attempt to raise awareness and eliminate the cuts proposed by President Trump. These protests are likely not the driving force behind any decision-making, but they do represent a political headache for a Congress already under scrutiny for their failure to repeal Obamacare as promised. The last thing legislators want is more fuel for the political fire as they head into what many expect to be a very rocky 2018 election cycle.
There is also a human element at play. Congress understands far better than the President what the proposed cuts to the HUD budget would look like in communities across the United States. Congress also likely has a better understanding of the backlog of Americans approved for assistance but unable to find a place to live. Considering the indisputable lack of existing funding to repair and maintain many of the available units, the cost of inaction could easily be much higher than addressing the problem now.
Necessity Is the Mother of Innovation
As the federal government continues to debate what level of cuts are acceptable, more and more cities are looking for solutions away from Washington. One of the most notable success stories ironically comes from one of the wealthiest areas in the nation.
San Francisco is emerging as a leader in the realm of public housing reform for a bold approach centered on eliminating the city from the equation in favor of public-private partnerships. By turning all of its public housing over to private developers but maintaining ownership of the land itself, residents moved from public to private shelter with rent subsidies. This step allows more flexibility in funding options from HUD and also takes the city out of the housing business in favor of more experienced experts.
Opponents of privatization point out the danger of allowing a profit motive to creep into services originally intended to be run by the government but local leaders in San Francisco took extraordinary steps to ensure developers would be held accountable for the quantity and quality of shelter provided. These measures added a critical layer of checks and balances to maintain standards for anyone managing public housing in the city.
First, the city required all private partners to pair up with a local non-profit group before qualifying for any funding; the nonprofit is designed to serve as a watchdog for residents to ensure any changes are indeed for the benefit of residents. San Francisco's civic leaders also insisted on terms and conditions in the deal above and beyond the federal standards to address specific concerns over the lifespan of the public-private partnership.
The San Francisco model is the exception, not the rule. Without proper oversight, private takeover of public housing assets could easily create more problems than it solves. In lower income areas with fewer resources, the challenges to maintaining a high standard remain considerable.
What Does The Future Hold?
The section 8 program is undergoing a series of changes out of both innovation and necessity. There simply is not enough money available from the federal government to adequately tackle the issue, and the prospect of even less funding creates serious problems for a system already bulging at the seams nationwide. Until Congress takes final action on President Trump's proposed budget cuts, many Americans in need of acceptable places to live have no choice but to hold their breath and wait to see what happens. At this point, nobody knows what the outcome will be, but the intent in Washington DC is leaning toward major cuts. If those come to pass, residents and local governments alike will face difficult adjustments.