Dozens of activists and affordable housing residents gathered on the steps of City Hall on Saturday to speak against proposed cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD.
The agency helps fund affordable housing and neighborhood improvements, and provides rental assistance to low-income Americans. President Trump’s proposed budget includes more than $6 billion in cuts to HUD.
Local housing advocates estimate the cuts would cost Austin more than $18 million a year in federal funding.
“When I was in the service, I believed in my country,” military veteran Robert Hewett told the crowd. “I believed that we took care of people, and I’m just appalled at what I’m seeing. People who can’t fend for themselves, that’s what America stood for, at least it did to me. That’s what I stand for.”
Hewett lives at Capital Studios, an affordable apartment complex downtown. Like many people, he said he never saw himself in need of housing assistance, but a few years ago, he began to lose his hearing and had to leave his job as an engineer. He struggled to find work and eventually ran through his savings.
Hewitt secured an apartment with the help of a special housing voucher for veterans. He said having his own home has helped him feel like himself again. Hewitt said he’s not much of a talker, but he felt the need to speak out on this issue.
“With these budget cuts and everything, it furthers my fervor into getting involved,” he said.
Several local nonprofits – including Foundations Communities, which built Hewitt’s complex – said they can’t afford to build new affordable housing if HUD slashes funding. The Trump administration’s proposed budget would also eliminate the community development block grant program, which helps pay for neighborhood improvements.
City Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, who represents District 6 in Northwest Austin, is one of several local officials who spoke in opposition to the cuts.
“It seems like every day I meet a constituent who lived in Central Austin, moved to District 6, and is now moving to Cedar Park because of affordability reasons,” he said.
Congress will debate Trump’s proposed budget this fall. Should lawmakers approve the cuts to HUD, Flannigan said, elected officials will have to get creative at the local level. He said he sees opportunities to address affordability in the ongoing rewrite of Austin’s land development code, CodeNEXT.
“It’s a big topic of conversation about how we can use our zoning, or how our zoning exacerbates affordability concerns, how it exacerbates accessibility and housing supply concerns,” he said. “The rewrite that we will head toward and approve next April, it is my hope that it will address some of the concerns that we have that aren’t addressed by the federal program.”
In a press release detailing the proposed budget, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said the agency would “vigorously pursue new approaches to help work-eligible households achieve self-sufficiency.”