A 2018 budget outline released by President Trump on Thursday proposes over $6 billion in cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including the complete elimination of the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program, which all major Capital District cities have relied on for years to fund a wide variety of projects and services that benefit low- and moderate-income residents. At one point or another, CDBG funds have been directed toward nearly every imaginable facet of urban life, from people experiencing homelessness to summer camps to small businesses to lead-based paint.
The proposed cuts to the federal agency, which also oversees the country’s public housing authorities and a suite of programs that assist poor renters and homeowners, represent a 13.2% decrease in discretionary funding from the previous year’s appropriation ($46.9 to $40.7 billion).
“The Federal Government has spent over $150 billion on this [community development] block grant since its inception in 1974, but the program is not well-targeted to the poorest populations and has not demonstrated results,” the budget document claims. “The Budget devolves community and economic development activities to the State and local level, and redirects Federal resources to other activities.”
For the program year that began July 1, 2016, the four major Capital Region cities—Troy, Albany, Schenectady, and Saratoga Springs—received or were slated to receive an estimated $7 million total in CDBG funds, according to public records and HUD’s online reporting tool. Albany, the top beneficiary of the bunch, received over $3 million, using funds to support programs like the African American Cultural Center’s “Summer Arts Experience” ($6,400) and the Center for Economic Opportunities’ “Jail Diversion Program” ($10,000), among many others.
A spokesperson for Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan told The Alt in an email that the mayor “absolutely opposes” the proposed cuts. Citing a long list of past activities and beneficiaries (seniors, veterans, the disabled, families at risk of homelessness, and others), chief of staff Brian Shea stressed the widespread effect such deep cuts could have on the capital city.
“Over 3000 individuals in the populations listed above would be impacted by the elimination of the CDBG/HOME funds,” Shea wrote, referring in the latter instance to the HOME Investment Partnerships Program, an affordable housing-related block grant. “We would not be able to continue funding the not-for-profits that serve them, and we would not be able to continue our in-house programs that assist homeowners throughout the City.”
“We would not be able to continue supporting larger affordable housing projects such as Sheridan Hollow and the Livingston Village Apartments—and we would not be able to continue supporting Habitat for Humanity and the Albany Community Land Trust,” Shea continued. “Both are instrumental in providing affordable housing opportunities in the City.”
Of the four major Capital Region city administrations contacted by The Alt Thursday morning, Mayor Sheehan’s office was the only one to respond prior to publication.
In a statement released early Thursday evening, Governor Andrew Cuomo emphatically criticized the proposed cuts and credited the CDBG program with transforming “affordable housing for New Yorkers in need.” Citing his experience as HUD secretary during the Clinton administration, the governor stressed the “real, tangible harm these cuts will impose on vulnerable, hard-working Americans in New York and across the nation.”
New York state communities received a staggering $288,016,281 total in CDBG funds this cycle, according to HUD’s Community Assessment Reporting Tool.
The Trump administration’s contention that the program does not sufficiently benefit the indigent seems more a matter of opinion than fact. According to HUD’s website, “70 percent of CDBG funds must be used for activities that benefit low- and moderate-income persons,” and any other activities must either prevent or eliminate “slums or blight” or “address community development needs having a particular urgency because existing conditions pose a serious and immediate threat to the health or welfare of the community.”
A spokesperson for HUD’s Region II, which spans New York and New Jersey, referred The Alt to Washington, D.C.-based HUD spokesperson Jerry Brown for comment concerning the budget blueprint. “Luke, we support the President’s budget,” Brown wrote, in full, when asked if the agency concurred with the Trump administration’s opinion of the CDBG program.
Brian Collins, a professor of public administration at the University of North Texas, told The Alt in an email that while there is “some truth” to the Trump administration’s critique, “as is the case with all summary statements, it leaves some important details out.”
“The academic literature highlights some limitations in the program (particularly the non-entitlement CDBG),” Collins continued, referring to grants typically awarded to communities with fewer than 50,000 residents, “but at the same time, cities rely upon these funds for a wide variety of goods and services. Demonstrating results has been difficult because of the broad nature of the CDBG goals, but almost any city administrator will say the funds are critical.” Over a decade ago, the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress, issued a measured critique of the program, which may have informed the Trump administration’s opinion.
In any case, a review of this year’s CDBG-backed initiatives in the Capital Region revealed, as Collins indicated, a disparate assemblage of seemingly worthy efforts, many of which focused on vulnerable populations.
Saratoga Springs, which received nearly a third of a million dollars this year, used funds to support a full-time coordinator for the city’s Code Blue program, an emergency wintertime homeless shelter, along with various affordable housing rehabilitation and construction projects.
Schenectady took in over $2 million, doling out substantial awards to a Boys and Girls Club-run park program; the Minority Contractors’ Technical Assistance Program, which aimed to “increase participation in construction activities primarily in the Hamilton Hill and Central State Street neighborhoods”; and to code enforcement activities in distressed areas.
And Troy, which received over $1.6 million, sought to devote the majority of its funds to improvements within Lansingburgh, located at the city’s northern tip, which the government designated a “target area” after a laborious public comment process. In the past, the city has used CDBG funds to make significant infrastructure investments, Hilary Lamishaw, director of community affairs at the Troy Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), a nonprofit community development organization, told The Alt in a phone interview.
Without access to “critical” CDBG funds, Lamishaw said, Troy might expect to see fewer homebuyers and more vacant properties. HUD-funded programs, while “inconsequential in terms of the overall federal budget,” have “a multiplier effect on the ground,” she added, citing the agency’s role in revitalizing neighborhoods negatively impacted by the foreclosure crisis of the late aughts. “Municipalities are going to suffer as a result.”
Lamishaw further cited cuts to the HOME Investment Partnerships Program and to nonprofit lenders like the Community Loan Fund of the Capital District as particularly concerning, though she held out hope that Congress might manage to preserve some or all of these programs through budget negotiations.
At least one nationally oriented advocacy group cast the prospective reduction in funding as nothing short of calamitous.
“If enacted, Trump’s proposed budget would result in the most severe cut to HUD since President Reagan dramatically reduced funding in the early 1980s,” Diane Yentel, leader of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, said in a statement. “Reagan’s deep spending cuts ushered in a new age of homelessness with a dramatic increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets, in cars, and in shelters. Years after those shortsighted and devastating cuts, a major infusion of resources were needed for homeless shelters and services. President Trump seems eager to follow in Mr. Reagan’s footsteps, repeating his mistakes and working to make America homeless again.”
Here is a list of CDBB funding awarded to NY municipalities in 2016: