Trump budget’s curbs on rent subsidies could hamper L.A.’s homeless housing effort, officials say

Dayna Catchings, photographed last month at her homeless encampment under a freeway in downtown Los Angeles.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump’s budget would upend Los Angeles’ attempt to solve its homelessness crisis, cutting into federal rent subsidies that had been expected to cover operating costs for thousands of new housing units, officials said Friday.

Limitations built into the spending plan for the Department of Housing and Urban Development would force the loss of 200,000 vouchers from the federal Section 8 program, 4,000 to 5,000 of them in the city of Los Angeles, officials estimated.

Douglas Guthrie, president and chief executive of the city’s housing authority, said the cuts would eliminate all new vouchers and probably rescind some from families already on the Section 8 rolls.


Congress still has to weigh in on Trump’s plan, and budget details remain sketchy. But officials are worried.

“It certainly signals intent and where they want to go,” said Peter Lynn, executive director of the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. “We have to take it very seriously.”

“There are a lot of moving parts, none of them good,” Guthrie said.

After decades of struggling to manage homelessness, the city in November persuaded voters to approve $1.2 billion in bonds to build up to 10,000 homeless and low-income housing units, with long-term financial support projected to come from rent vouchers.

L.A. County voters this month approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase to generate $355 million a year for homeless supportive services. The measure narrowly cleared the required two-thirds majority, officials said Friday.

Trump also called for cutting off all community development block grants, which Lynn said the city uses for emergency shelters and short-term rent support for homeless families.

A budget increase is proposed for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which agreed in 2016 to build 1,200 units for homeless veterans at its West Los Angeles campus. The rent vouchers for that project, however, also come from the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget.


A possible preview of what might happen if Trump’s budget is adopted came in 2013, when the federal sequestration halted distribution of all rent vouchers in Los Angeles, officials said.

Douglas Rice, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., said the federal government currently operates under a spending cap that limits funds for poor people.

Trump’s budget, Rice said, has received some “fair pushback” from Republicans and Democrats. But, he added, there is no organized constituency for tenant subsidies.

On the other hand, block grants are popular with mayors, and Republicans have consistently supported voucher renewals in the past, Rice said.

One option not on the table is curtailing the city’s homeless housing construction, Guthrie said.

“There has been an enormous effort by the city and by the county, backed by the citizens, to comprehensively address the homeless problem here,” Guthrie said. “We will do our part in making sure that program works.”

Twitter: @geholland


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