Say yes to communities, no to cuts

Photo by Abby Livingston

As the leader of one of the largest affordable housing organizations in the state of Texas — Austin Habitat for Humanity — I have become familiar with acronyms that may not mean much to others. HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) and CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) are two I believe everyone who cares for their community should become familiar with.

HUD provides critical federal assistance for affordable housing and neighborhood improvements — this will tally somewhere around $48 billion by the end of this year. CDBG funding within HUD provides $3 billion in block grants to 1,250 state and local recipients. Those grants are used for a diverse range of projects, such as building fire stations, providing food for low-income families and piloting educational programs.

In the case of my organization, CDBG funds are an irreplaceable tool in building communities of safe, decent and affordable homes.

Through a Community Development Block Grant, Austin Habitat for Humanity was able to purchase and develop a plot of land on the east side of Austin. The east side is a historically disenfranchised part of the city, but due to Austin’s rising popularity, land values and real estate costs have skyrocketed there. For context, in 1997 we purchased a plot of east-side land for $22,000 that is now valued at $1.1 million dollars. While the impact on owners and renters is clear — increased expenses — what this means for us as an organization is that we can no longer afford to purchase land on which to build in a city where 53 percent of low-income residents spend almost half of their incomes on housing.

That’s where CDBG funding becomes so critical. Where there once was nothing, there are now 11 affordable homes with 11 hard-working families beginning to build new lives. Nine of those 11 households have school-aged children living in them — and with children of homeowners being 116 percent more likely to attend college, those homes will make a monumental impact on their lives, providing benefits for generations to come. One household has a child who just last week celebrated a birthday in his own home for the first time; that would not have been possible without CDBG funding.

If 11 new homes does not sound like enough of an impact, look to the next project on our horizon. CDBG funding allowed us to purchase 14.6 acres of undeveloped land that will eventually have 126 affordable homes on it. If the proposed 2018 federal budget is adopted in its current form, CDBG funding will be completely eliminated from HUD’s budget, meaning communities such as that one will no longer be possible for us — or many other housing organizations — to build.

We understand the value in operating in a sustainable matter — it is a core principal of Austin Habitat for Humanity. We teach our partner families the importance of creating and maintaining budgets. We are supportive of the effort to do the same on a federal level — but cutting vitally important programs that support hard-working families and revitalize disenfranchised communities is not how we strengthen our nation. It’s quite the opposite: a surefire way to weaken it.

So I implore you — contact your representatives. Let them know that eliminating CDBG funding and slashing HUD’s budget by 13 percent is not in the interest of our communities or our country. Let them know you care about building fire stations, providing food for low-income families and piloting educational programs. Let them know you care about building affordable communities where children can celebrate their birthdays in safe, decent homes.

Just let them know you care.

Phyllis Snodgrass

CEO, Austin Habitat for Humanity