If how America spends its money shows what its priorities are, the Trump Administration prioritizes Pentagon waste over public housing repairs.
Many of the nation’s public housing properties have been in disrepair for decades. Officials estimate that $50 billion is needed to conduct repairs of the nation’s public housing, but the Trump Administration wants to eliminate the fund for those repairs entirely.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon has been hiding a 2015 report showing more than double that figure has been wasted on bureaucratic inefficiency. Senior Defense Department officials allegedly tried to bury the report fearing Congress would cut the Defense budget if it knew of the bloated, wasteful spending.
If Congress did reallocate the $125 billion wasted by the Pentagon over five years, it could’ve made a major difference to Americans in public housing.
The District of Columbia Housing Authority faces a “monumental crisis” according to its executive director Tyrone Garrett. About a third of D.C.’s public housing units are in such disrepair they are unfit for human habitation. About 5,000 residents live in those units.
“Would we want our parents, our family members, our mothers, or our children for that matter to live in units that are decaying around them?” Garrett asked.
D.C. is emblematic of the broader state of public housing nationwide. As housing funding diminishes, housing authorities struggle to address the growing problem of decaying housing.
“You have roof leaks, ceiling leaks, probably stemming from something on the roof, decaying floors, walls,” Garrett showed NPR on a tour of one decaying property. “You can see where the mold is building up and this is probably more than likely from a lack of ventilation.”
Garrett estimates the city needs $2 billion to address housing for the long-term. Just two years of cutting Pentagon bloat would’ve been able to address the problem nationwide. But instead, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson is turning his agency’s hopes to the private sector.
“A lot of money will be pouring into those and a lot of these distressed areas are in the opportunity zones — 380,000 public housing units,” Carson told Congress.
Opportunity zones are designed to encourage private sector investments through tax breaks. But housing advocates are skeptical that this will translate into any benefit for decaying housing — businesses are able to invest in stores, hotels and other businesses.
Even in the best-case scenario, public-private partnerships take time, and the crisis is immediate.
“It’s stressful. We don’t know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen,” said Linda Brown, who has lived with her disabled daughter in D.C. public housing for 12 years. “We should be mindful that we’re talking about human beings and not numbers.”
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.