Bush Declares War on Homeless, Low-Income Tenants

Blunted thus far in his efforts to expand America’s war to Iran, President Bush has found a target closer to home: America’s homeless and low-income tenants. The Bush budget plan for fiscal year 2008 announced on February 6 slashes key low-income housing programs, while increasing America’s mammoth defense budget by 11%—an increase that does not include funding for the Iraq war. It will again be up to Congress to not only stop the cuts, but to achieve the long overdue budget increases necessary to stop the worsening of the nation’s homeless and housing crisis.

While the Bush Administration sends public relations staff like Phil Mangano around the country touting plans to end chronic homelessness, the President continues efforts to cut housing programs for the poor.

The new Bush budget plan would reduce the vital Project Based Rental Assistance Program, which currently funds about 1.2 million project based subsidies, by $163 million. Public Housing funding would be cut by nearly $400 million.

While the budget for the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher program would rise by approximately one half of one percent or about $80 million. This is far less than would be needed to keep the program operating at its existing level, since increases in annual rent payments to landlords will clearly exceed that amount.

This means that despite all evidence that Section 8 housing is critical for getting families out of homelessness, the Bush Administration seeks to reduce the number of families served by the program.

In announcing his budget, Bush said it reflected his chief priority of ‘protecting Americans.’ That term appears to only apply to American military personnel, not low-income families whose health, education, and futures are threatened by homelessness.

While the budget increases funding for homeless assistance programs by $120 million, homeless advocates recognize that this increase is greatly outweighed by cuts to affordable housing programs. According to Nan Roman, president of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “increasing access to affordable housing is the key component to ending homelessness nationwide.

Without increases in affordable housing, community efforts to end homelessness are doomed to failure.”

Of particular concern to many San Francisco nonprofits is Bush’s proposed $736 million cut to the Community Development Block Grant Program (CDBG). San Francisco’s CDBG program funds a wide spectrum of critical housing, education and community development services.

To show you how far America’s budget has moved rightward in the past three decades, Richard Nixon’s

1972 re-election campaign highlighted the fact that ‘for the first time in 20 years we are spending more on human resources than defense.’ Nixon was a big booster of the CDBG program, which was enacted during his presidency and began in 1974.

The CDBG program’s decimation began with Ronald Reagan, but the program proved so popular with Republican mayors—the money is allocated by local governments– that it survived. But the same president who has allocated over $20 billion for community development in Iraq has consistently opposed providing adequate funding to improve America’s low-income neighborhoods.

Bush’s budget even cuts housing for the elderly (Section 202) by $160 million, and housing for people with Disabilities (Section 811) by $112 million.

Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) would rise by $14 million, an amount barely sufficient to fund this unmet need in California.

And the man who ran in 2000 as a ‘compassionate conservative’ proposes to cut funding for the Emergency Food and Shelter Program, Health Care for the Homeless, and Grants for the Benefit of Homeless Individuals/Treatment for Homeless.

After making great progress on winning political support for increased federal housing funding in the last years of the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration has again pushed housing and homelessness off the national radar screen. While the Democratic Congress will likely defeat the worst of the budget cuts, keeping the status quo while millions are ill-housed or homeless in America is an unfortunate if unavoidable goal.

For a complete list of Bush budget proposals for homelessness-related programs, go to http://www.endhomelessness.org/content/article/detail/1467.

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