by Felicia Eaves
Recently, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced the Obama Administration’s latest budget revisions. This would mean a shrinking of the Army, closures of some bases (except Guantanamo Bay), and reductions in weapons systems, military pay and benefits and veteran pensions. This proposed cut in the defense budget is the largest since World War II, totaling $553 billion.
Although it appears as though the Administration is trying to downsize the military budget, the Pentagon’s budget is still due to increase by $32 billion in 2014. So what does the Pentagon’s budget have to do with the rising cost of housing in the District of Columbia?
In 2013, Congress enacted budget sequestration, which refers to automatic, across the board spending cuts to the federal budget. Interestingly, the $553 billion in the sequestration cuts to the military do not factor in war costs or nuclear weapons activities at the Department of Energy—and only represents a 1.6 percent cut relative to 2013 levels.
While the Pentagon maintains its activities through these methods of “redistribution,” sequestration has had devastating effects on domestic spending programs such as affordable housing. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), 70,000 fewer low-income families used housing vouchers to rent private housing in December 2013 than were used the year prior. CBPP also estimates that roughly three-fourths of state and local housing agencies have had to shrink the number of families they help due to sequestration, which cut funding for the Housing Choice Voucher Program by nearly $1 billion last year.
How has sequestration affected affordable housing in the District? Some examples:
• Housing Choice Vouchers cuts will leave an estimated 111,233 families without this assistance. In the District, 530 fewer families will have these vouchers, according to CBPP’s estimates.
• Public Housing, funding nationally will be cut by $298 million. The District will lose more than $2.9 million.
• Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS funding will be cut by $15 million. For the District this will mean about $694, 800 less for housing for our most vulnerable populations.
• Homeless Assistance Grant will be cut by a total of $100 million. The District will see cuts of about $1.1 million.
When all of this is put into perspective in addition to the egregious display of income inequality in District, it is safe to say that there is a war on the basic needs of the most vulnerable of Washington DC residents. Meanwhile, the Administration and the Pentagon boast apparent cuts in the military budget to the public, yet continue inflating the war economy through activities in other defense agencies.
Feclicia Eaves is a DC resident and Human Rights Activist.