While America’s affordable housing crisis continues to reach new heights, the challenges facing Clark County families and communities have only been made worse by dysfunctional Congressional politics.
In 2011, Congress passed a law to set in motion dangerously low spending caps if they were unable to find common ground to reduce the federal deficit. Even though these spending caps (sequestration) do very little to solve the deficit issue, they were designed to be so disastrous that no reasonable member of Congress would allow them to take effect. Or so they thought.
Clark County is stronger when we have decent, affordable homes and stable communities. Yet, since 2011, Congress has allowed low spending caps to deprive families and neighborhoods of the housing and community development investments they need to thrive. Highly successful and effective programs have been significantly cut, including those that help Washington’s seniors, people with disabilities, low-income families with children, veterans, and people experiencing homelessness access safe, decent and affordable housing.
A glaring example is the HOME Investment Partnership Program (HOME), which has been slashed by 50 percent since the spending caps have been in place. This year, due to tight budget constraints, the House of Representatives proposed to provide HOME just $767 million in appropriated funds — or 58 percent less than in 2010.
The bill also contains a highly objectionable transfer that would essentially eliminate a new housing resource — the National Housing Trust Fund — in an attempt to increase HOME funding to its record low level of $900 million. The Senate proposes to severely cut the HOME program by 93 percent, which would essentially eliminate it altogether.
These funds have helped to build affordable housing across Clark County such as Aurora Place, which has 25 apartments serving low-income families in the Ogden Neighborhood, McAllister Village in Fruit Valley with 48 units, Covington Commons in Orchards with 105 units, and Hyde Park House on the east side with six units.
In 2014 alone, HOME dollars paid rental subsidies for more than 110 families and single people living in public and private properties. These funds make it possible for children to go to school and parents to go to work knowing that they have a safe place to sleep at night. In a community with a very tight housing market, people struggling with poverty need the safety that these funds provide to avoid sleeping in their cars or on our streets.
HOME is exactly the type of program that Congress should be investing in, not eliminating. Over 20 years, HOME has helped build and preserve more than 1,000 affordable homes and has served as direct rental assistance to thousands of low-income families in Clark County.
HOME gives communities the flexibility they need to address their most pressing housing challenges, ranging from homeownership to rental to rehabilitation in urban, suburban, and rural areas alike. It also plays a critical role in leveraging other federal, state, and private investments because it often provides the gap financing necessary to make affordable housing developments financially feasible. In fact, every HOME dollar leverages an additional $4.
Congressional dysfunction has gone on for too long. It’s time to lift the damaging spending caps and make smart investments in highly successful, locally driven and effective federal housing programs like HOME. Clark County families and communities deserve better.
Diane McWithey is executive director of Share. Andy Silver is executive director of the Council for the Homeless. Debby Dover is executive director of Second Step Housing. Each organization is based in Vancouver.