North Carolina affordable housing advocates pushing to improve high-crime and low-income neighborhoods say President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts in federal aid threatens their communities.
In Charlotte, for instance, cuts in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) would adversely impact a Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte program that fixes damaged owner-occupied homes, the organization’s leaders say.
“It would pretty much gut the program,” said Phil Prince, Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte’s director of marketing and communication. “It would have traumatic consequences if (cuts) would pass in this form.”
Trump is trying to overhaul federal government spending, placing a priority on the military and national security. He’s dubbed the his spending proposal a “skinny budget” for the federal government and it has won early praise from conservative groups and Republican lawmakers.
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Chances are the plan will not pass in its current form, since Democrats and many Republicans offered little enthusiasm for the proposal Thursday.
The budget would also slash spending at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, reduce spending on after-school and summer learning programs, and make it harder for cities to become “sanctuary cities.”
U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-Charlotte, said Trump’s budget plan is right to make defense spending a priority and cut “wasteful spending.” Some conservatives, such as U.S. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, a former South Carolina congressman, say the existence of some HUD programs can’t be justified.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-Charlotte, strongly disagreed. “If adopted,” she said, “this budget would be devastating for Mecklenburg County."
Local leaders working on affordable housing in North Carolina say their efforts have helped revitalize struggling neighborhoods and ensure low-income families have the chance to invest in a home.
Charlotte Habitat received about $775,000 in CDBG funding last year which it uses for its critical home repair program.
The program fixes owner-occupied homes that might have floor, roof or termite damage. Many of the homes are occupied by the elderly or widows, Prince said.
The non-profit affordable housing group fixed 63 homes through the critical repair program in the last fiscal year and is slated to repair 73 homes this fiscal year, 55 of them with CDBG funds.
Charlotte Habitat would also suffer in its ability to build new affordable homes because of Trump’s proposal to cut in AmeriCorps, a federal national service organization..
About 20 AmeriCorps members currently work on Charlotte Habitat construction sites with some members overseeing construction crews.
“If we lost that component of what we do, it would limit our new construction,” Prince said.
In Raleigh, a federally-backed project in East College Park is on track to build 98 single-family homes and 51 new townhomes – 60 percent of which will only be sold to low or moderate-income families. The city of Raleigh has already bought 130 lots there, improved surrounding utility infrastructure and private companies will soon begin construction.
Already, nearly $5.5 million in federal funding helped rebuild the water, sewer and stormwater drainage systems in the East College Park neighborhood.
A program Trump wants to cut – called HOME, administered by HUD – is essential to making sure local families can ultimately afford to move in, said Larry Jarvis, director of the city of Raleigh’s housing and neighborhoods department. HOME provides, among other things, downpayment assistance for eligible families.
Over the past two decades, the HOME program has sent more than $686 million to North Carolina. The top 10 counties that received the money include Wake, Durham, Orange, Mecklenburg and Buncombe.
In addition to downpayment assistance, the HUD program helps local governments and groups build affordable housing and make repairs to homes for the elderly, the poor and people with disabilities.
In Wake County, the HOME program helps foster care youths find and rent their first apartment after they’ve aged out of the state’s foster program. The federal funding also aides new construction of apartments and townhomes for people who have difficulty paying market-rate rents, including the elderly.
Since 1994, the county has used money allocated from the HOME program to build or repair nearly 2,800 units, primarily for people with disabilities, seniors and low-income families.
If the money disappears, the county doesn’t currently have a fallback option to continue the work, said Alicia Arnold, Wake County housing and transportation division director.
In Wake County, the CDBG program provides an annual $1.5 million in funding to help pay for an employment program and housing re-entry for men at the South Wilmington homeless shelter. Some of the money is also used to make emergency home repairs for low-income families and rehab houses for disabled or elderly people who need wheelchair accessible doors.
Typically, cities and counties like Raleigh and Wake use the federal grants and HOME program money in conjunction with other state and local government funds, as well as non-profit and charitable grants, to do the work.
The federal dollars are a key component to a multifaceted approach to helping communities and providing affordable funding across North Carolina, said Scott Farmer, executive director of N.C. Housing Finance Agency, which last year received $12 million in HOME funding.
“It’s a pretty wide swatch that we cover,” Farmer said, noting that the agency has been active in recent years in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties.
In small towns, the HOME money often is used to help families avoid foreclosure or pay for urgent house repairs for elderly people or low-income people. In major cities, the money helps with the construction of new affordable housing apartments or home-buyers programs.
North Carolina is fortunate to have a growing population and economy but there’s still a gap of affordable housing in the stage, he said.
“There’s not an obvious source to replace this.”