Federal budget cuts proposed for public housing programs in 2007 could have devastating impacts, according to leaders of a national association that promotes affordable housing and redevelopment.

In a Monday presentation, representatives of the National Association of Housing and Redevelopment Officials said that the president’s proposed budget calls for a 20 percent cut on subsidies for public housing and a 10 percent reduction in capital funds that help to maintain the existing stock of public housing. Also, a community grant program could be cut about 25 percent if the federal budget for the 2007 fiscal year is approved as proposed.

The association represents about 21,000 housing and community development agencies and professionals, and its mission is focused on the community needs of low-income and moderate-income people and the creation of affordable housing.

Gulf Coast-area hurricanes destroyed and damaged a portion of the public housing supply, and the nation has yet to rebuild and repair those units, said Don Cameron, NAHRO president and CEO for the Charleston Housing Authority in South Carolina.

“There is no commitment to rebuild all of that housing. There is a crisis existing in all of those areas for housing,” he said, adding that the association supports new emergency legislation that would provide about $1 billion to construct new housing in storm-affected areas.

Renée Rooker, senior vice president for NAHRO and executive director for the Walla Walla Housing Authority in Washington, said there are more than 30 million families in the country who are rent-burdened, and proposed cuts to housing programs will exacerbate the problem. Subsidies for public housing programs are still reeling from a 20 percent cut in the previous budget cycle, she said. The elderly and disabled are among those who benefit from public housing subsidies, Rooker said.

“We are talking to Congress year after year, trying to articulate the need of public housing,” she said.

The Community Development Block Program, which is implemented by the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department and awards grants to states and local jurisdictions, is facing a cut of about 25 percent — or $1 billion — in the proposed budget, according to NAHRO leaders. At least 70 percent of CDBG money must be used for activities that benefit low-income and moderate-income persons, according to the program guidelines. The elimination of slums and blight, and improvements to communities facing threats to health and welfare are among the objectives of the grant program.

The Housing and Urban Development Department is facing a cut of about 1.8 percent in total funding in fiscal year 2007, with budget reductions of 10 percent to 20 percent for individual programs, NAHRO reported. The president’s budget calls for $2.78 billion for formula grants to cities and states in fiscal year 2007, down from $3.71 billion in 2006.

“The coalition sees these cuts as evidence that the administration is abandoning its commitment to America’s communities in the guise of reform. Its members expressed concern that the 25 percent reduction in funding will pose serious threats to their ability to provide important services and economic recovery for their citizens,” according to a NAHRO announcement earlier this year.

“There’s a tremendous impact that has been already sustained by CDBG and we feel should not be further imposed,” said Montez Martin, vice president of the NAHRO Community Revitalization and Development Committee and vice president of the Charleston Housing and Redevelopment Authority. The CDBG program faced elimination in the proposed budget last year, but was spared.

In February, NAHRO announced that a coalition representing cities, counties, local elected officials and housing and community development organizations were calling for a reversal of the proposed cuts to the CDBG program. Among the coalition participants: the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, U.S. Conference of Mayors, National Association of Counties, Housing Assistance Council, and National League of Cities.

Martin said that another wave of hurricanes or other natural disasters could compound the cuts to public housing programs. “Imagine what happens if the same thing is inflicted upon us in this coming hurricane season. If we don’t have the money then we cannot expect the action.”

NAHRO plans to release a survey Wednesday that highlights the potential impact of budget cuts on housing programs.

Cameron said that it is important in the budget discussion not to lose sight of the people who will be directly impacted by a reduction in housing programs. “They are not going to be responded to properly if the budget that has been proposed (is approved),” he said, adding that housing agencies across the country “will not be able to do the job they’re supposed to do.”

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Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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