In the four months since the election, I have been asked countless times what I think the impact of the Trump Administration and the Republican Congress will be on community development. I have had a hard time developing a coherent answer to this question, or even a coherent path to finding an answer. In part, like many Americans, I have been more focused on dozens of other concerns like the future of our planet and our democracy. The first month has given us many reasons to be fearful, but also reasons to be hopeful, as so many people have raised their voices in opposition to regressive policies. So, having had some time to reflect, I thought I would offer a few thoughts about what the future may hold and what we can do to shape it. I believe there are six areas that should be of top concern to community developers:
1. Domestic Spending: It is abundantly clear that the entire domestic budget is at risk. The President and Congress want a dramatic increase in military spending and large tax cuts. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are consuming larger and larger portions of the federal budget and any reductions in those programs are also likely to hurt low-income people the most. The bottom line is that the so-called Non-Defense Discretionary Budget is vulnerable to massive cuts, especially in light of statutory spending caps that need to be lifted.
Community developers are rightly concerned with many specific budget line items, such as Section 8, CDBG, HOME, Homeownership Counseling, the Community Economic Development program, the CDFI program, NeighborWorks America, AmeriCorps, HUD Section 4 and more. Each of these requires attention and we must fight for them on their own merits. But all of these programs are competing with other vital programs in a zero-sum game unless we can join forces with others to protect overall domestic spending. We must fight to lift the cap on domestic spending. In fact, our best hope might be to secure a continuing resolution (CR) for the balance of this fiscal year and for future fiscal years. A CR would likely impose relatively modest (albeit still damaging) cuts across the board, rather than a new budget that eliminates, or slashes key programs.
2. Tax Policy: I refuse to call the proposed changes to our tax laws “Tax Reform” unless and until we see that the changes will make our taxes more equitable and fair. Sadly, such an outcome is unlikely with tax cuts likely to favor the wealthy and drain resources from key programs (see issue #1 above!).
For community developers, there are both threats and opportunities in a potential overhaul of our tax laws. The Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) is already negatively impacted by the mere prospect of lower corporate taxes. Ultimately, I think it has strong support in Congress, but we need to fight to expand and improve this program and mitigate the unintended impact of other potential changes in corporate taxes. Thankfully, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch is a lead sponsor of the Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act. Because of the leadership of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, there also appears to be growing momentum to reform the Mortgage Interest Deduction to focus it more effectively on low- and moderate-income homeowners. This is essential. We need to make sure that any savings is reallocated to affordable housing. A tax bill would also be a chance to permanently extend the New Market Tax Credit. Finally, we need to fight to preserve, if not expand, the Earned Income Tax Credit.
3. Infrastructure: President Trump said he wants a major infrastructure program, although there seems to be less immediate appetite for this in Congress. If this does gain momentum, we need to fight to ensure that housing and community development are part of the program.
4. Financial Regulation – It is clear that President Trump and Congress want to eliminate many of the safeguards and regulations established after the Great Recession. We need to aggressively fight to preserve some of the most important protections, in particular, the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Community Reinvestment Act. Thankfully, while the CFPB is under a full-scale attack, at the moment, I have not heard too much about CRA being threatened.
5. Immigration – Immigrants have been at the heart of the community development movement for decades, as we work together to create welcoming communities for everyone. That said, immigration policy has not been on our agenda – at least not during my 20+ years at MACDC. It is time for that to change.
Community developers need to join with the immigrant community to fight for smart, fair, humane policies. That is why MACDC has endorsed the Safe Communities Act in Massachusetts to make sure the Commonwealth supports our immigrant neighbors.
6. Voting Rights – There is a clear agenda to restrict voting rights across the country. False allegations of voter fraud are merely a ruse designed to justify new restrictions on voting. Inevitably, these restrictions impact low-income communities and communities of color the most. Voter suppression combined with politicized gerrymandering could distort our democracy for years to come. If we cannot protect the right of people to vote in fair elections, our work on these other issues may not matter.
To shape the outcome of these debates, community developers must find common cause with those who share our values of community, inclusion and opportunity. We must nurture civil discourse locally and nationally that is grounded in facts, respect, compassion and humility.
MACDC will be making its voice heard as a member of the New England Housing Network through which we will be meeting with our Representatives and Senators locally and planning trips to Washington, DC. We are also bringing a large contingent to the People and Places Conference in the Washington, DC area from May 31 to June 2, where we will join with hundreds of our colleagues from around the country to make our case directly to Congress and the Administration.
We hope many of you will join us.