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Want to invest in infrastructure, Donald Trump? Don't forget about social housing

Josh Crites
Trump’s budget in March called for a $6bn reduction to the department that funds US social housing programmes. Photograph: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty

When president Donald Trump originally promised a massive $1tn infrastructure spending plan on his campaign trail, he spoke about wanting to see America rebuilt. Trump spoke of crumbling roads, bridges and airports that needed to be reconstructed.

Details of the policy have now been announced. The plan is missing much detail and a prime opportunity – to invest in social housing.

The Council of Large Public Housing Authorities is calling for a $10bn investment in social housing infrastructure. While nothing has been introduced to Congress, the secretary of housing did make assurances that housing would be part of the infrastructure bill.

This comes after the dismaying Trump budget in March, which called for a $6bn reduction to the department that funds US social housing programmes.

While funding social housing might not seem like a logical conclusion for a Republican president, partnering with the social housing industry would help him to reach the goals of his infrastructure bill.

There are 1.2m units of social housing in America. They are becoming rundown and have an estimated $25bn in capital maintenance backlogs. These are buildings that need new roofs, windows and major rehabilitation. Without a major rebuilding effort, thousands of these affordable units are at risk of being lost forever. If that does not qualify as public infrastructure that needs to be rebuilt, what does? Funding the social housing programme and adding extra money to address the backlogs would be a major boost to the rebuilding efforts.

Instead of reducing subsidies to social housing programmes, the administration should knuckle down and provide extra funding. As well as ensuring the provision of affordable housing for the nation’s neediest people, the social housing industry could assist Trump in fulfilling his campaign promises.

Spending money on rebuilding social housing would guarantee job growth across the US – something Trump promised during his campaign and in his inauguration speech. There are public housing units in nearly every state. Funding the capital needs backlog for social housing would create thousands of high-paying jobs in construction, trades, management and the supply chain across the US.

If the Trump administration decides, instead, to cut funding to social housing, the economic aftermath could cost the president his pledges on rapid jobs growth and higher incomes. Diane Yentel, executive director at the National Low-Income Housing Coalition, estimates that 123,700 employees could lose their jobs if the cuts to the social housing and redevelopment industry are implemented. Trump should take this opportunity to create jobs.

There is a real chance for the new president to fulfil campaign promises while also ensuring that those with the least are taken care of. But will Trump seize the opportunity?

Josh Crites is a strategic adviser for the Seattle Housing Authority and was one of the speakers at the recent social housing festival in Amsterdam.

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