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Editorial: Congress mustn’t starve local governments of affordable housing funds

Homelessness is on the rise in Los Angeles. Above, Roy Carter, 57, sweeps the sidewalk where his belongings are gathered on South Hope Street in Los Angeles.

Homelessness is on the rise in Los Angeles. Above, Roy Carter, 57, sweeps the sidewalk where his belongings are gathered on South Hope Street in Los Angeles.

(Los Angeles Times)

Talk about bad timing. As the Los Angeles region struggles to confront an affordable housing crisis, with three-quarters of the lowest-income Angelenos spending more than half of their income on rent, and with homelessness on the rise, Congress wants to slash one of the main funding sources that local governments have to build and preserve homes for the poor.

The HOME Investment Partnerships Program gives states and cities money to address local affordable housing needs. The dollars are provided in block grants that give officials the flexibility to target specific needs and create new programs for new challenges. The city of Los Angeles has used the money in the past to help build permanent supportive housing for the homeless and low-rent apartments for poor families. Pasadena was planning to use next year’s funding to provide housing for people recently released from prison who are going through job training and reentry programs. Over the last five years, Los Angeles County and cities within the county have received $457 million, which helped fund the construction of more than 7,000 units for low-income families, provide rental assistance to 1,500 struggling tenants and helped 900 poor homeowners rehabilitate their homes.

But with Congress still working under the unreasonably low spending caps imposed by the Budget Control Act of 2011, both houses have proposed slashing HOME funds to balance the Department of Housing and Urban Development budget. The Senate would eviscerate the program with a 93% cut, leaving only $66 million to be spread around the entire country. The vast majority of cities wouldn’t receive enough money to build a single unit of affordable housing. The House proposed a less draconian cut of 15% — but would fund the remaining 85% in part by raiding the new National Housing Trust Fund. That fund was created after the subprime mortgage crisis, and the money for it was supposed to be provided by mortgage lending giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That plan was put on hold after the firms were bailed out by taxpayers, and the money was finally set to begin flowing in 2016. Under this newest proposal, the Fannie and Freddie money would be used to fund HOME instead of the trust fund, and the result would be the same as the Senate plan — dramatic cuts in overall federal funding to house the poorest Americans.

The cuts would hit California cities particularly hard. Before California’s redevelopment agencies were eliminated in 2011 to balance the state budget, they generated $1 billion a year to create affordable housing. That money has not been replaced, and for some cities, such as Los Angeles, HOME funds are pretty much the only dollars available each year to help build apartments for low-income and homeless people. It’s time for Congress to start investing in safe, affordable communities again.

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