Trump's proposed budget would hurt LA's homelessness efforts

Any cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would likely trickle down to L.A.'s plans to tackle homelessness.
Any cuts to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development would likely trickle down to L.A.'s plans to tackle homelessness.

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President Donald Trump's proposed budget, which calls for dramatic cuts to public programs, would complicate L.A.'s plans to combat homelessness.

The proposal – which represents the president's wish list and not a final federal budget – requests $6 billion in cuts from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which is a major funder of local rental assistance projects and affordable housing. 

Though the city and county of Los Angeles have recently been granted big funding boosts for anti-homelessness efforts in the past two elections, federal funds remain a key piece of L.A.'s homelessness strategy, local officials said Thursday.

"It's preliminary," Yolanda Chavez, an assistant city administrative officer for L.A., said of the proposal. "But this could have a huge impact on our efforts."

Chavez said HUD's HOME Program, which is on the president's list for cuts, is the primary source of affordable housing construction dollars in the City of L.A.

Proposition HHH, which city voters passed in November, dedicates $1.2 billion in local bond money to housing for formerly homeless over the next decade. But many of the projects being considered for approval under HHH's first round of funding also rely on HOME dollars.

There's also the matter of how formerly homeless would pay the rent once they're living in the new developments. Rental help is largely expected to come from another HUD program that could face cuts, said Doug Guthrie, president and CEO of the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles.

"The plan is to develop approximately 1,000 units of permanent supportive housing annually, which would require project-based Section 8 long-term contracts," Guthrie said. 

Section 8 is an assistance program that pays portions of a person's rent and is designed to help poor families, seniors, and individuals stay housed in private rentals. L.A. has few public housing projects and most housing assistance comes in the form of Section 8.

If Section 8 got hit, that might mean the city would have to devote its current vouchers, which sometimes become available if a current recipient dies or gets a better job and leaves the program, exclusively for formerly homeless. 

The waitlist for a Section 8 voucher in Los Angeles has been closed for 13 years and officials estimate if they started taking applications, they could get as many as 800,000. 

Any cuts, Guthrie said, would further strain what's already an underfunded program. 

"This is step one, it's not what will eventually get approved as a budget, but it does cast a light on where this administration is going and it's something that we just can't accept," Guthrie said.

Among the other cuts the Trump administration suggested were eliminating the Community Development Block Grant Program, which funds a wide variety of programs for the poor, including parts of the L.A. Homeless Services Authority and things like meals on wheels for seniors.

Another potential cut: the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which subsidizes utilities for low-income people.