Of all the federal agencies that ought to have their budgets zeroed out, HUD should be the first. There is no bureaucracy in the "anti-poverty" business that does more than HUD to take people perfectly capable of self-sufficiency and intentionally turn them into lifelong government dependents. And, in the "bang for the buck" category, no other bureaucracy could possibly outdo HUD for futility. No housing grant, subsidy or other initiative counts for as much as a penny in the income of any recipient. Therefore, if somebody was poor before receiving an HUD grant or subsidy, it is one hundred percent assured that that person will still be poor after climbing on to the gravy train. There is no known metric under which HUD's "bang for the buck" could ever get above zero. If you count trapping millions of able-bodied people into dependency, HUD is hugely destructive.
At the same time, running HUD "programs" is the perfect bureaucratic sinecure. Virtually nobody ever escapes HUD's web. Once you are into subsidized housing, why would you ever go back to paying full price for your home? So the bureaucrats have a permanent lifelong clientele ready to advocate at the drop of a hat for continuation and increase in budgets. And if the bureaucrats fail in their job of maintaining the buildings properly (as of course they will), they have a ready-made source of self-inflicted heart-rending stories to use to get their budget increased. The whole thing is a cancer.
Into this disaster has now stepped new HUD Secretary Ben Carson. He has expressed many times his desire to reduce the dependency that it is HUD's core mission to increase. But can he actually accomplish anything? The preliminary Trump budget outline has proposed cutting HUD funding by about $6 billion -- about 12% of the total. Not nearly enough, but a start. In the couple of months since his confirmation, Carson has gone out around the country on some kind of a "listening tour," visiting places like Dallas, Miami, Detroit and Ohio. Reading articles about the tour, it seems that it has turned mostly into an opportunity for recipients of HUD handouts to make their pitches for increased -- or at least, continued -- funding. Or, to put it another way, Carson is getting swarmed by the Blob.
As Exhibit A of the Blob pushing back, here is a website called CarsonWatch, set up to advocate for keeping and/or increasing all HUD funding. As Carson started his tour back in March, these guys put up a post oh-so-subtly titled "The Trump-Carson housing budget will push more Americans out on the street." Excerpt:
At a time when millions of families are caught in a historic housing affordability crisis, the Trump-Carson budget for the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) proposes $6.2 billion in cuts to vital programs that help everyday families have a place to call home. It also eliminates all grants to urban and rural communities that help spur job creation and economic development. These immoral cuts will exacerbate homelessness, racial and economic inequality, and fall hardest on our most vulnerable neighbors.
It's a good thing these guys don't ever trouble themselves to look up any numbers. If they did, they might discover this: New York City has a population of about 8.5 million, and is said to have over 60,000 "homeless," about one "homeless" person per 142 of population. To pick another city that takes a different approach to public housing, Houston has a population of about 2.3 million, and is said to have a "homeless" population of about 5400. But that's only about one "homeless" person per 425 of population, only about one-third of New York City's "homeless" rate. Surely, then, to drive its numbers of "homeless" people down, Houston must have far more HUD-subsidized public housing per capita? Wrong! According to this "cross-city" comparison from the NYU Furman Center, in New York City some 5.3% of all housing units are "public housing" (in this case, NYCHA), while in Houston the comparable percent is 0.4%. Admittedly, the study is from 2008, but I doubt that those numbers have changed much since. Could it really be that for all its extraordinary efforts to solve a "housing shortage" by building more and yet more HUD-subsidized housing, New York City only makes negative progress at getting people "off the street" and into housing? Absolutely. This is socialism, folks. Look around at more of such easily-available statistics, and you will find that there is a strong positive correlation between amount of public housing and increased homelessness. A cynic might conclude that extensive availability of subsidized housing incentivizes people to declare themselves "homeless" to jump the line to get in.
At various places along Carson's tour, it seems that the strategy has been to trot out one or another sympathetic or heart-rending case to try to stave off budget cuts. For example, here is a New York Times article from Wednesday reporting on Carson's stop in Columbus, Ohio. Excerpt:
On his second day in Columbus, Mr. Carson stopped by the apartment of Alzene Munnerlyn, an 87-year-old living in senior housing and using a voucher to pay part of her rent after she was priced out of her last apartment.
The Times doesn't choose to tell us if Ms. Munnerlyn has any children or grandchildren who might have helped. In Dallas, the mayor chose to make a plea for relief from all the nitpicking regulations that HUD attaches to its grants. But the reporter from the Dallas Observer was on to the diversion: Dallas had just finished going through an HUD audit where hundreds of millions of dollars somehow turned up missing, only to be promptly forgiven by the Obama HUD:
You have to pause here and recognize that [Dallas Mayor] Rawlings is a Democrat who went to Washington and cut a deal with a democratic HUD secretary, Julian Castro, to get HUD to eat, kill, trash and deep-six its own four-year investigation showing that Dallas was sucking hundreds of millions of dollars out of HUD, lying about what it was doing with the money and then spending it in ways that violated federal law.
Yet, needless to say, the onslaught from the advocates has seemed to get Carson at least partially on the defensive. From the Washington Post, April 3:
HUD Secretary Ben Carson said Monday that the Trump administration will seek to include housing funding in a yet-to-be unveiled infrastructure spending bill. “The part that people are not hearing even though I’ve said it several times is that this administration considers housing a significant part of infrastructure in our country. And as such, the infrastructure bill that’s being worked on has a significant inclusion of housing in it,” Carson said at the National Low Income Housing Coalition conference in Washington.
So they are only talking about a budget cut of about $6 billion (out of about $50 billion), and then much or all of it is going to come back in through the back door in an "infrastructure" bill? The Blob just never lets up. Will Carson actually succeed in accomplishing anything in reining in HUD over the next several years? The jury is out. In the past, you could never go wrong by betting on the Blob. I'm hoping it's at least a little different this time, but only because I'm a hopeless optimist.