Possible Cuts Would Leave Most Vulnerable in Peril

by Deborah De Santis

This morning I had the opportunity to participate in a groundbreaking project for a new affordable housing development in Brooklyn, New York. CAMBA Gardens is an innovative project spearheaded by the nonprofit agency CAMBA, which provides services that connect people with opportunities to enhance their quality of life.

CAMBA Gardens is a unique partnership between a public hospital, a nonprofit developer and social service provider to redevelop surplus hospital property in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. When completed, it will offer 209 units of affordable housing for individuals and families -- many of whom will have transitioned from the New York City shelter system.

Those 209 homes will provide the support residents need to live independent and healthy lives. And, it will reduce their dependence on costly emergency services for shelter, and health and psychiatric care. Research and experience have demonstrated supportive housing like CAMBA Gardens is a cost effective alternative to letting people live on the street or languish in shelters.

How does a project like this get funding? CAMBA Gardens is backed by several sources -- one of which is the federal government.

As Congress deliberates over the fate of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) budget, I urge them to not be penny wise and pound foolish. Congress has a daunting task of balancing the budget while attempting to preserve the safety net for those most in need. Reducing HUD's funding will erode the progress made over several administrations to stem the tide of people with chronic conditions living on the street and in shelters.

Funding for HUD faces a proposed reduction to its lowest level since 2001 and 2003 under the Senate and House bills respectively. There is only a short window of time for our senators and representatives in Washington to hear from us about just how ill-advised such cuts will be.

Housing and community development programs play a pivotal role in helping prevent homelessness, protect vulnerable individuals and families, AND they leverage private capital to produce desperately-needed affordable housing and local jobs. At a time when the economy is stagnant, incomes are falling for working households, the percentage of Americans living in poverty is at its highest in 17 years, private capital is scarce and homelessness is rising -- deep cuts to affordable housing and community development programs will be nothing short of devastating for the most vulnerable people and communities.

Policymakers must realize that pulling funding for programs that serve our most vulnerable, increases use of shelter and other crisis systems. We know that these options are costly and only offer a band-aid solution -- an expensive and wrong-sized intervention for people who have chronic problems that led them into homelessness in the first place.

Now is the time to let our congressmen and senators know just how foolish a cut to housing aid would be.

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